The EP is often overlooked when it comes annual round-ups, but this format continually provides us with memorable outsize moments and the year in music would not be the same without them as these 16 releases demonstrate.
An organic and eclectic selection where genres never define or confine, but only serve as reference points for where words fail to describe the music – a kind of musical edgeland where ambient and modern classical minimalism co-exists with acoustic, folk, electronics, and field recordings.
Square Peg Round Hole is a percussion-driven instrumental trio based out of Philadelphia, PA. Members Evan Chapman, Sean M. Gill, and Carlos Pacheco-Perez all met while studying at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and formed the project around the inventive use of drum kits, vibraphone, samples, found objects, synths, and vintage analog keyboards to develop a style that draws on elements from post-rock, electronic, ambient, and contemporary classical motifs. Coming off their exhilarating self-released album Corners in 2013, it was the band’s second record, Juniper (2016, Spartan Records) that garnered them some national attention. Composed in rural Maryland and remote Wisconsin, the album unveiled a more abstract, introspective approach but still retained some of the directness and vibrancy of the debut as it was recorded almost entirely in full live takes.
Providence, RI-based composer/producer Daniel Fine is poised to release his sophomore full-length album under the moniker of still life next month on Hush Hush Records, a Seattle-based label curated by KEXP-FM DJ & Pacific Notions show host Alex Ruder. ‘for a long time time i went to bed early‘ is a kaleidoscopic montage of reflection and memory that revolves around crystalline piano lines, prismatic textures, shimmering electronics, cinematic vignettes featuring strings and trumpet, euphoric post-rock crescendos, samples, found sounds, and spoken word. The constant shifting of mood, pace, and color is reflective of life itself exactly as Fine intended when he started working on the album.
“This album has been a project that’s consumed my life since January of this year and has served as a sort of “emotional grounding” as I’ve gone through a lot of big changes in my life. It’s full of really quiet and really loud moments, messy moments, somber moments, joyous moments, and everything in between. It’s a bit lo-fi, a bit noisy – it’s a bit of a diary for all of my thoughts and emotions and places I’ve been and experienced.” – Daniel Fine aka still life
While many of us are still savoring the kaleidoscopic panorama of It Billows Up released by Brooklyn-based trio Sontag Shogun this past spring, the band delivered a pleasant surprise along with the turning of leaves in the form of a new EP called Floréal. It is a introspective “mini-suite” in a distinctly autumnal mood that once again finds Ian Temple, Jesse Perlstein, & Jeremy Young in compelling form with their alchemical fusion of foley & tape treatments, organically derived textures, painterly solo piano compositions, and ethereal vocals.
Presented in a cassette tape format, side A belongs to a single immersive composition entitled “Photographs from a moving car” featuring guest vocals by Finnish composer & musician Lau Nau, while side B unfolds in three parts – the moving title track, the collagic “Plaid Lines”, which features the voice of Canadian artist Ora Cogan, and the hauntingly beautiful “Lament” which is featured here in a touching video created by multi-disciplinary artist Joshua Miller using old found footage shot while on a road trip across the United States with his ex-partner. Though deeply personal in origin, the music and visuals combine to powerfully convey themes of both nostalgia and solastalgia in an especially moving and relatable way.
Composer Logan Nelson has as worked on films like Green Book, Dear White People, and other Netflix shows, scored over 40 short films, two web series’, and a video game, written on commercials for companies like Google, Nexus, IBM, & Prudential and just finished up collaborating on a documentary epic about Mt. Everest produced by National Geographic and Sony including a live orchestra recorded in Budapest. That might sound like the CV of a veteran composer, but Nelson was still still a senior at the USC Thornton School of Music when he was named the Best Young International Composer at last year’s World Soundtrack Awards.
Come January of next year, Nelson will be releasing a solo EP entitled Lavender Echoes which branches off from his extensive film work to explore his interest in “blurring the lines between live instrumentalists and electronic atmospheres” in a more abstract way. The album was recorded in Los Angeles with the members of the Calder Quartet who formed its “backbone” as well as electroacoustic harpist Lara Somogyi and Nashville-based violinist Shawn Williams all of whom gave Nelson a rich tapestry of sound to work with for his endeavor.
“It’s a process that quite literally defines ‘Lavender Echoes’… I think this process is analogous to what technology can do to beauty; taking neither a positive nor negative perspective, but a perspective of manipulation. I hope that the EP represents an honest portrayal of my relationship with music, musicians, and space; and perhaps gives a perspective on the modern definition of beauty through the lens of technology.” – Logan Nelson
CEEYS is a portmanteau coined from the names of the primary instruments used by brothers Sebastian & Daniel Selke to perform their minimalist modern classical compositions – the cello played by Sebastian (‘violoncelle’) and Daniel’s piano and vintage synthesizers (‘keys’). Their latest album now out on the Neue Meister imprint is the final chapter in a triptych centered around growing up in Europe’s largest prefab estate in Berlin-Marzahn-Hellersdorf, East Germany and living through the dramatic political & cultural changes that transpired during the collapse of the GDR and the reunification with the West.
The album is called Hiddensee, referring to the small but picturesque holiday island in the Baltic Sea just west of Rügen, a “sweet little land” (‘Söte Länneken’) with an unspoiled beauty that attracted such artists & intellectuals in the early 20th century as Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, and Sigmund Freud and which served as both a popular vacation destination and a haven for dissidents throughout the GDR era.
“After the Peaceful Revolution in 1989, the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall and all through the 1990s, the area kept its contradictory atmosphere of vibrant euphoria and underlying melancholia. As we strongly felt the need to incorporate all different aspects of these turbulent times into our work, we decided to release them in a series of records over the next years to come. While CONCRETE FIELDS was dedicated to our childhood behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, WÆNDE was a collection of impressions regarding the sudden fall of the Wall – the moment of change that is shaping us to this very day. Now we turn to the no less intense 1990s – for us, those years bring to mind family trips and our sheer amazement for the vast beauty of the world.” – CEEYS
“Ypsilon” is the second collaboration between veteran sound artists Uwe Zahn aka Arovane (Germany), Porya Hatami (Iran) and Darren McClure (Japan). Perhaps some readers recall the first time they joined forces as a trio on Veerian (2016, Eilean Rec), a veritable masterclass in minimalist expression and textural sound design. Never ones to repeat themselves, the new record find the group expanding on their original ideas and excavating new sonic terrain with the addition of more fluid melodic shapes and rhythmic structures. Ypsilon is in constant motion. It pulses, shimmers, and percolates with a restless energy and an impetus toward experimentation and even playfulness.
Here in this exclusive premiere, you can enjoy the penultimate title track which ushers in the album’s more contemplative, atmospheric closing chapters, a smooth glide path to the end of a fascinating sonic excursion.
Sun Rain is the solo alias of Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist, DJ, & electronic producer Chad Skinner. Released earlier this month on Hush Hush Records, Sheets represents his debut under this moniker, yet he’s been active within the music community for the past five years, releasing two albums as part of electronic production duo Snowday as well as spinning DJ sets in clubs and festivals around Ontario as Legs Florentine.
Recorded entirely in Skinner’s home studio, Sheets is a collection of eight sonically diverse electro-acoustic vignettes bound together in an aesthetic of melancholic beauty and heartfelt reflection on the importance of trees and wood in historical and contemporary life. From solo piano to folk guitar and from ambient synths to soothing beats, there is an organic style and contemplative mood shared by all the varied pieces that serves the overarching theme.
“After acquiring and spending time with a piano over a century old, I realized just how precious wood is. It has been integral for the survival of mankind; all the while remaining one of the most utilized natural materials for creative exploration.” – Chad Skinner