ACL 2015: Top Ten Modern Composition

the-summonerThe loveliest sounds of the year are found right here.  With a tender approach and attention to detail, these composers mine the spectrum of emotions to produce works of gravity and grace.

Once upon a time, we called this music classical.  The fingerprints of ancient composers can still be sensed in the sheet music of modern composition, but today’s composers have other audiences in mind.  Whether soundtrack or symphony, they attempt to reach into hearts and minds, scoring both depression and joy.  This year’s selections also demonstrate a love of strings: at our site, this is the year of the bow.

And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Modern Composition releases of 2015.

Anoice ~ into the shadows (Ricco)
Intentionally lighter in tone than The Black Rain, into the shadows is a gorgeous walk down the path of modern composition.  Until now we’d considered Anoice to be a post-rock band, but now we’re reassessing that opinion.  The new work continues to be heavy on emotion, but a new hope seems to have entered: a crack in the clouds, a whisper of refracted light.  (Richard Allen)

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Cello + Laptop ~ Segments (Edu Comelles)
It’s always a pleasure to listen to Cello + Laptop. Their sparse sound borders on the minimal, but the fluctuating music finally rises. While exceptionally pretty, the cello’s raw, surging power hints at an underlying tension and dark dramas ahead. Barely-there electronics help to shape the sound, and the duo complement each other perfectly.  (James Catchpole)

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Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld ~ Never were the way she was (Constellation)
Two great sounds that go well together, like chocolate and peanut butter: brass and string, sax/clarinet and violin.  The artist’s shared love for surprising composition shows forth in a series of sonic experiments.  If at times the timbre turns sombre, it’s only to reflect the weight of shared sorrow.  Neufeld’s wordless vocals are like sentences one is unable to articulate, save through sighs.  (Richard Allen)

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Iskra String Quartet ~ ISKRA (1631 Recordings)
Fans of this genre should already be familiar with many of these songs, if not the quartet behind them.  Iskra String Quartet has played with many of the best, and this collection nudges them into the spotlight.  With quiet grace and deep emotion, the quartet colors these compositions with their own distinctive flair.  Buy this set for those unfamiliar with the genre; they’ll be hooked at first play.  (Richard Allen)

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Jim Perkins ~ Constance (Bigo & Twigetti)
Label founder Jim Perkins steps out on his own with this deliberately designed set, packed with confluences and reflections.  Deciphering the puzzle is part of the magic.  While a clear tribute is made to traditional chamber music, there’s no mistaking Constance for the work of a prior century; it’s far too vibrant and contemporary for that.  (Richard Allen)

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Julia Kent ~ Asperities (Leaf)
Cellist Julia Kent makes dark music for dark times, and Asperities is a match for the planet’s current mood: apprehensive and a little bit sad.  But Kent is more complex than that; she claims the cello’s power in loops and waves.  It’s as if she is saying that we can persevere.  By tapping our own hidden reserves, we might find reservoirs of hope.  (Richard Allen)

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Kreng ~ The Summoner (Miasmah)
Any Kreng album is an entire world in the making, and The Summoner is no different. Its theme, centered on loss, draws out his penchant for the occult under a new light, one that weaves together the modernity of psychological diagnosis with its so-called opposite in hermeticism, interfering with the model of emotional stages with a ritual, a summoning. The alchemical process, after all, is also an emotional one, and the possibility of calling something by its true name right before acceptance opens up, with Kreng’s signature pathos of juxtapositions and sudden irruptions, a kind of music that is genuinely sublime, a natural terror born from elemental mutability, death as life, life in death, finding everything in every void the heart, as consciousness, ventures towards. (David Murrieta)

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Michael Price ~ Entanglement (Erased Tapes)
One of the year’s most mature sounding albums is a full-length debut.  Michael Price has been working hard since the release of his EP a couple years back, honing his sound and preparing to launch a major work into the world.  Entanglement is just that: a beautiful, contemplative work that stands tall among its peers.  As it was released during the Easter season, and features a track by that name, it’s hard not to associate the album with the holy days, which are now coming around again.  (Richard Allen)

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Moon Ate the Dark ~ Moon Ate the Dark II (Sonic Pieces)
The most playful album on this list, Moon Ate the Dark II features twinkling piano and percussive electronics, dancing like moonbeams on a cloudless night.  The duo has grown a lot in three years, but retained its sense of wonder.  By the end, one thinks, what a perfectly chosen name.  The dark is swallowed up in light.  (Richard Allen)

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Peter Gregson ~ Touch (Sono Luminus)
This year Peter Gregson completed a hat trick, finding coverage on our site three times (four if you count the fact that one of his compositions was featured on ISKRA above).  This is a rare feat, perhaps unprecedented, and speaks highly of his talent.  His score to A Little Chaos lifted the film to a higher level, and Touch impressed on its own.  Tender, sweet and comforting, the album finds a home in the heart, daring it to come forth, to risk, to dance, to love.  (Richard Allen)

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  1. Cello Riot

    Amazing, thank you

  2. Pingback: Sono Luminus Studios | The 2015 List of Lists

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