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.
Balmorhea – Solaneles
Released on World Sleep Day and dedicated to the memory of composer Harold Budd, Solaneles is an impressionistic reverie in miniature from the duo of Balmorhea, a perfect companion for nestling into slumber or drifting into a period of reflection. The duo closed out the year on a high note as well with the release of the deluxe edition of The Wind featuring a second disc of bonus material as well recording a live performance of the album t the Chinati Foundation, in the desert town of Marfa, Texas.
Solaneles as well as The Wind (Deluxe) and The Wind (Live in Marfa) are available via Deutsche Grammophon
Between – prelude (00.00)
Subtitled “a bed of warmth, over bits of sand”, prelude (0:00:00) began as the first of several hours of recordings, initiated by Taylor Deupree and Stephen Vitiello during a five-day seaside retreat. The goal was to lay down groundwork for a new album under the moniker Between, a revolving collective of artists associated with Deupree’s 12k label. Overcoming travel restrictions through remote collaboration they were able to put together a veritable ambient super group comprising Corey Fuller (piano) from his studio in Tokyo, Federico Durand (acoustic guitar and small objects) from his rural studio in Argentina, and stateside musicians Michael Grigoni (lap steel guitar) & Molly Berg (clarinet). On its face, it is a sublime work of electroacoustic minimalism, but as the liner notes explain, for the artists, it is the friendship that is of the greatest importance.
Between, at its core, is a group of friends listening to each other and not just playing but responding. It is the building of deep worlds with small movements with a focus on restraint and speaking only when needed…
prelude (00.00) is available as part of the 25th Longform Editions digital music series
Brother Tree Sound – Songs Without Words
Brother Tree Sound is a string quartet founded in 2017 by a group of like-minded musicians who had experience playing in some of London’s most renowned venues. In addition to performing traditional pieces and commissioned music, Anna de Bruin (violin), Thea Spiers (violin), Peter Mallinson (viola), and Julia Graham (cello) found time to create an intimate record featuring their own composition which highlights their considerable prowess as arrangers and performers as well. The album abounds in intimate, ethereal beauty while occasionally showing playful glimpses of their self-confessed “eclectic tendencies”.
Songs Without Words is a digital release from London-based Bigo & Twigetti
Emmanuel Witzthum – The Garden of Eternal Echoes
The CD releases of this deeply meditative ode to the botanical world by composer Emmanuel Witzthum is deservedly given the full bespoke treatment by Fluid Audio in keeping with its theme including cover art and page inserts from the work of William Morris along with other vintage artifacts and dried flowers. The art of the EP indeed.
The Garden of Eternal Echoes is available for download from Facture, the label’s digital offshoot. At time of publishing a single copy of the bespoke CD edition remained available.
Eydís Evensen – Frost
Born in the remote Icelandic town of Blönduós, we are told that as a child pianist & composer Eydís Evensen would stand in the howling wind and stare out the wild Westfjords pretending to conduct the clouds. Indoors she was exposed by her parents to a breadth of music from very early on ranging from Tchaikovsky to Led Zeppelin. This year, she followed up her brilliant debut album Bylur with Frost, a quartet of beautiful pieces in a similar vein inspired by the memories of the harsh Icelandic winter.
Frost is available as a digital release from XXIM Records
Federico Mosconi – Outdoor Melodies
Part of a new digital eRecords series launched this year by Whitelabrecs, this gorgeous EP finds composer & guitarist Federico Mosconi in a pastoral mood as he lingers on the more delicate and ethereal sounds he is capable of creating. Look to full-length efforts such as Air Sculptures (Lost Tribe Sound) or Dreamers and Tides (Dronarivm) for his immersive sonic world-building. Outdoor melodies is a much more peaceful and soothing diversion.
Outdoor Melodies is available as a digital release from Whitelabrecs
Freya Arde – Viva Forever
German composer and guitarist Freya Arde has a number of films to her credit and her release of songs from here score for Viva Forever is succinct distillation of the music she created for Sinje Köhler‘s film, it is a delight to listen to as a collection of sun-drenched melodic vignettes just long enough to transport the listener to another state of mind. Other than Katharina Lattke on drums, Freya played all the instruments on the album which also makes a nice call back to the beautiful solo record Spirit Awake she released about two years ago.
Viva Forever is a digital release available directly from the artist
GoGo Penguin- Between Two Waves
This new EP by GoGo Penguin is more than a small collection of new songs. It is a marks a new chapter for the band that began last year when when pianist Chris Illingworth and bassist Nick Blacka were joined by new drummer in Jon Scott and culminated in a recording session at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios at the end of the lockdown period. The trademark piano, bass & percussion driven sound that has garnered the band such a devoted following is certainly present, but so are new elements such as Eurorack modular and Moog synths and a prototype of Otto Sammy’s Palm Mute Pedal (of which Nils Frahm is also a fan). Add in some really cool visualizers for each of the songs and it becomes more of an event than most small EPs.
Between Two Waves is available as a digital release from XXIM Records
Hani Rani – Live From Studio S2
I am starting to run out of superlatives for Hania Rani, but surely some are deserved for this stunning live session recording at Poland’s Studio 2 in Warsaw where she performs “Hawaii Oslo” and “Glass” from her debut album Esja as well as “Leaving” and “Buka” from her follow-up record Home. Previously only available on video or abbreviated digital form, Gondwana Records released the complete session this year with bold new cover art.
Ian Hawgood – Mysterious Shapes and Remembered Rhythms
Speaking of artists I am running out of superlatives for, what a productive year for Ian Hawgood as a collaborator, mastering engineer, label runner, and solo artist. Mysterious Shapes and Remembered Rhythms was a nice surprise of a release late in the year and features a short series of sketches sourced from guitar and tongue drum which he dedicated to a mono reel-to-reel recorder. Adding depth and color are additional treatments on two of the tracks by Stijn Hüwels and Fields We Found respectively.
Nebel Lang – The world we leave with
When composing under the guise of Nebel Lang, musician Pablo Damián Ruiz Alcantú uses his piano as a vehicle for creating unrepeatable moments that blend improvisation with environmental and temporal elements. His music emphasizes the textural character of the piano as much as the notes that are being played, but there is no denying the captivating beauty of what ends up on tape. The world we leave with is one of several fine releases Pablo put out this year and follows his preferred structure of prefacing one or two free-flowing long form pieces with a short “situate” track to set the tone.
Olivia Belli – Somnio Novo
Somnio Novo is a branch from the root of Olivia Belli’s full-length solo album Sol Novo. On the EP Olivia creates four enchanting solo piano variations of the song “Visions to Come”, a track she chose because of the positive message it symbolized and her desire to “to find positivity in the strange, terrible moments we were living through”. Following this is a splendid trio of reworks, the first ever recorded of her work we are told. Each artist was given total freedom to choose a song and rework it as they saw fit. Clearly, they were in very safe hands with the likes of Hugar, Slow Meadow, and XXIM Records labelmate Ed Carlsen.
Somnio Novo is available as a digital release from XXIM Records
Poppy Ackroyd – Pause Reworked
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Poppy Ackroyd revisits her 2021 album Pause with a collection of reworks that employ countermelodies and percussive elements of the piano to create a very different mood. The rather charming backstory is that the hushed, delicate quality of the originals is owed to the fact that much of Pause with Poppy’s newborn son asleep on her in a sling. On the reworks, however, she is free to explore a wider range of resonances and unlock dramatic new possibilities previously hidden.
Pause Reworked is available as a digital release from One Little Independent Records
Portico Quartet – Next Stop
A coda to their 2021 album Monument, Next Stop is a four track EP recorded by Portico Quartet at the same studio sessions. With enough heft and dynamism to justify a vinyl release (currently sold out, unfortunately), it is a double espresso shot of musical energy that really hits a sweet spot in its balance of texture, melody, and dazzling musicianship.
Next Stop was released by Gondwana Records
Robot Koch – The Next Billion Years (Foam and Sand Reworks)
When Robot Koch released The Next Billion Years in the spring of 2020, he had a tour already booked with a full orchestra to perform the sprawling existential opus live. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown scuttled those plans, but a silver lining emerged in the form of an opportunity to reinterpret the music through the lens of his ambient project Foam and Sand. This meant working in a different musical language that is more minimal and intimate in its approach. Beautiful in its own right, it proved to be a very worthwhile endeavor.
The main focus for me is how it feels rather than if it’s a perfectly executed idea. With my Robot Koch releases, I go way more into the details and tweak things in the mix a lot more. With Foam and Sand, the beauty is in its rawness.Robot Koch
The Next Billion Years (Foam and Sand Reworks) is available as a digital release. For more about the project be sure to watch the short documentary film about the project here.
Wodwo – Veils
This late year entry to the Whitelabrecs eRecords series is from award-winning novelist & screenwriter Ray Robinson who makes minimalistic ambient and neoclassical music under the name of Wodwo. In an effort to capture “gauziness and hand-worn nature” of some of his favorite contemporary ambient records, Robinson established a method of creating loop-based layers of sound to serve a canvas for his improvisations with guitar, bass, and pedal boards. Even with its succinct run time, Veils abounds with shimmering beauty and a potent emotional undertow no doubt attributable to Robinson’s well-honed narrative instincts.
I love the way a sudden key change can facilitate a displacement of mood…Ray Robinson
Veils is available as a digital release from Whitelabrecs