2018 Year in Review: The Art of the EP

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The EP is often overlooked when it comes year-end retrospectives, but this format can provide us with some very special musical moments and here are some from 2018 that I would not have wanted to miss.

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2018 Year In Review: Journeys in Post Rock, Experimental Folk & Acoustic

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A vibrant and eclectic selection where genres never define of confine, but only serve as reference points for where words fail to describe the music; a sort of musical edgeland where ambient and modern classical minimalism co-exists with acoustic, folk, electronica, post-rock, and shoegaze. 

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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. 

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2018 In Review: Journeys in Ambient, Drone, and Electroacoustic

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This list can never be big enough to include all the beautiful work done in these genres over the course of a year, but here are 25 albums that left a lasting impression. Here you’ll find rich atmospheres, deep emotional undercurrents, and organic, warm, and tactile soundscapes. Among these albums we find as much decomposition as composition, an embrace of stillness and naturally occurring beauty.

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2018 In Review: A Sense of Place and Time

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Each of these sixteen albums is conceptually, thematically or musically connected to places or moments in time. While this is a somewhat common motif in instrumental music (ambient in particular), it is absolutely integral in these outstanding works released in 2018. Some are personal narratives and some are depictions of landscape either real or imagined. Others are sonic interrogations or interactions inextricably linked to the locations where they were formed. Whatever their nature, all of them proved captivating and memorable. One might say they represent the very essence of stationary traveling… 

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Lucy Claire | Scape Works [1631 Recordings]

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The third and final installment in Lucy Claire‘s “Works” series is a beautifully conceived EP that takes her music out of the confines of living room and studio to integrate with a variety of soundscapes. In a rather fresh take on the concept, she has taken an especially interactive approach which, when combined with her keen sense of narrative and use of binaural recording techniques, creates a series of vivid, immersive and pleasantly disorienting scenes. The magic is in the layering and juxtaposing of the many field recordings used in each piece and then contriving musical reactions to each setting.

“a Lisbon tram journey
a walk through an old ship building yard named Bucklers Hard
a car journey across the Pennines in a hail storm
a walk along a towpath in Dorset
a hike to a castle in Schwarzwald, Germany
a walk in the New Forest…”

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Illuminine | #3 [Ferryhouse Productions]

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Kevin Imbrechts may be from Belgium, but there is something unmistakably Icelandic in the character of the music he creates as Illuminine, a kind of atmospheric and enigmatic beauty.  No wonder Sigur Ròs sound engineer Birgir Jón Birgisson took an early interest in his work and invited Imbrechts to the band’s  Sundlaugin studio where he completed the recording of first album and went on to record the next two. Of course, there are other prominent strands in the DNA of his sound – melancholic neoclassical in the vein of Ólafur Arnalds or A Winged Victory for the Sullen (whose Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie has become a collaborator) and electric guitar which traces back to Imbrechts’ admiration for the more introspective work of avant-garde instrumentalist Buckethead citing ‘Electric Tears’ (Metastation, 2002) as an influence.

All of these elements are manifestly present on the newly released #3 which turns out to be the most personal Illuminine album yet as Imbrechts reveals it concerns a very dark chapter in his life during he was struggling with anxiety and panic attacks as well as being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Harrowing as that may sound, he says that writing the album was “the best therapy possible” and that it turned into a sort of “secret sound diary” which he molded to reflect the daily cycles from dawn to anxious, sleep-deprived nights and back to hopeful dawn again.

“It’s my own ‘channel’ to communicate with the world, to express feelings. Everyone can and should project their own ideas and feelings onto the music. Instrumental music is more powerful than vocal music with clear lyrics; it’s much more telling. I want to share this with the world, as I think people have to talk about these issues. It’s not easy to talk about it, but it helps.” – Kevin Imbrechts 

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ALBUM STREAM: ‘La Fonte’ by Brendon John Warner

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For eight years, Brendon John Warner wrote, recorded & toured Australia with the progressive post-rock group We Lost the Sea before heading down a different musical path to pursue his growing interest in synthesis and lo-fi electronics. Beginning to pull at what he calls “a long lingering creative thread”, he dedicated himself to a “radical, contemporary musical view focused on contrasts, textures, dynamics, spatial relationships and instrumentation”. That choice and commitment have come to fruition in the form of his first full-length solo album entitled La Fonte (“The Melt”), a sprawling, kaleidoscopic electroacoustic exploration of the relationships between humanity and planet earth, ecology and economy, and climate change. Those are pretty ambitious themes to tackle in a first effort, not to mention one that clocks in at over a full hour of immersive instrumental music, but Warner says that stretching himself in this way had a significant impact on him creatively speaking.

“Both musically and thematically ‘la fonte’ challenged me to re-imagine the way I express myself through music. While storytelling through instrumental music in nothing new to me, using a broader concept of sound and composition to delve into more contemporary issues became the hallmark of what I was trying to achieve. From the use of found-sounds and sampling to blending synthesized drums with live percussion, and even a more open approach toward improvisation, this record, and the impossibly big themes it aims to explore, changed me as a musician and as an artist.” – Brendon John Warner

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Sound Impression: 88 by Cédric D. Lavoie [Preserved Sound]

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Based in the market town of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, Preserved Sound has always been a friendly label to artists who create unique intersections of modern classical, jazz, and experimental ambient music, often featuring unconventional approaches to instrumentation.  Some of the more noteworthy recent examples include Tess Said So, Covarino/Incorvaia, Adrian Lane, and Trigg & Gusset. This month the label will add a new name to the catalog that fans of the aforementioned should very much appreciate – Canadian composer and founder of the Mismar ensemble Cédric Dind-Lavoie. His forthcoming solo album on entitled 88 originated on the piano and was then fleshed out with bowed & plucked upright bass as well as a keen focus on the use of discrete percussion and sound effects.

“Everything started on the piano. I also explored recording techniques emphasizing the sound resulting from the mechanics of the piano and my fingers on the keyboard. These sounds are rarely acoustically audible, but add an intimate and intriguing aspect to the recording… ​I also thought about hiring string players to play on some of the tracks but eventually decided to take on the challenge of playing everything on the upright bass, to achieve a darker and perhaps more unusual string section.” – Cédric D. Lavoie 

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PREMIERE “Eliza (Variation 5)” from A Shade Under Thirty by Stray Ghost [Phases Records]

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For the better part of a decade, self-taught multi-instrumentalist & producer Anthony Baden Saggers  has been releasing music as Stray Ghost both independently and on such respected boutique labels as Hidden Shoal, Time Released Sound, and 1631 Recordings. In a couple of weeks, he will be able to add Phases Records to that list as the London-based imprint is shortly to release his latest opus entitled A Shade Under Thirty. The title is an overt nod to the kind of milestone the album represents for the artist as he surveys his own past, present, and future while reaching out to forge a meaningful connection to his audience.

“The maturity he has recently talked of reaching at the age of thirty, leaving behind the young man he once was, is mirrored in A Shade Under Thirty by his vision of the world at a pivotal moment, his piano picking a path forwards through European disintegration, climate change and life in the digital age. As he says himself, ‘I don’t just want people to listen… I want them to feel.'” 

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Sound impression: eistla by r beny

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Maybe it is my lack of imagination or maybe it was growing up during the era of the Apollo Program, but when I picture the busy maze of knobs, ports, lights, and crisscrossing cables that make up a modular synth setup, the last thing I expect are warm, organic, efflorescent sounds full of soulful melancholy and longing. But, that is exactly the kind of music that Bay Area musician Austin Cairns produces with these devices under the moniker of r beny (an homage to Canadian photographer Roloff Beny).  Building on the extraordinary work of his previous releases ‘saudade’ (Dauw, 2018) and ‘cascade symmetry‘ (self-released, 2017), Cairns gives us a late-year gift in the form of ‘eistla’.

“A recurring dream. The frozen landscapes of isolation and loneliness. Fragmented memories lost at sea. Cold, sharp light // Glowing rays of hope in the morning. // It was just a dream.” – r beny

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PREMIERE: “Þægindi” from Close by Mark Wardale [Bottle Imp]

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After two full-length albums and a trio of EPs under the moniker of Row Boat, musician/composer Mark Wardale is about to release his first work under his own name. There is an amusing bit of self-deprecating cheek when he cites irreconcilable differences with himself in reference to the change, but when it comes to creating imaginative, ear-catching music that spans multiple genres, Wardale is as serious as ever.

To listen to ‘Close‘ is to enter a world where neoclassical, ambient, and post-rock elements are intertwined, infused with Scandinavian character, and ornamented with eclectic sonic flourishes. While the same could be said of the music of Row Boat, the new record marks a noticeable shift toward modern classical elements and cinematic flair as the ambient & post-rock atmospherics are employed much more sparingly. In addition, Wardale demonstrates his growing compositional prowess by weaving a cohesive tale in which the narrative of each track supports a greater one that flows through the entire album.

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