New year, new music ~ we’ve never had this many releases to share so early in the year, and we’re already psyched for 2017! January begins a new season of hope: a fresh notebook, a blank slate, a field of snow on which to write. 2017 is quickly providing reasons to rejoice. In this list, we’ve also made 5 top picks ~ frontrunners for the year’s best albums!
There’s plenty to peruse here, including the usual big names next to some first-time stunners. As usual, descriptions are below, while our constantly updated News page includes all of the samples we can find. We hope that you enjoy what you see and hear!
This month also marks A Closer Listen‘s 5th year anniversary as a site. We’ve continued to grow over the years, but we remain humble, because of our volunteer staff and more importantly, our readers! Thank you for making us who we are ~ may 2017 bring you the best music of your life!
Our cover image is taken from PD Eastman’s classic children’s book Snow ~ a perfect new year’s gift for any child, old or young!
Ambient and Drone
Brian Eno isn’t wasting any time in 2017, with his new album released on the first of the year. Reflection is being called “the album that doesn’t end,” as it also comes in a generative app version (Warp). William Basinski is back with the emotional A Shadow in Time (pictured to the right), a two-track record that includes a loving tribute to David Bowie (Temporary Residence, January 15). After a successful multi-media installation focusing on Christian Sardet’s photographic images, Ryuichi Sakamoto presents the musical facet of the project in the form of Plankton (Milan, January 27). Fresh from the 2-part single Indigo/Expanse, 36 has announced a sequel to Sine Dust, due early in the year. thisquietarmy pops up on Grain of Sand Records with Métamorphose on Feburary 13. Eilean Records (our label of the year for 2016) wastes no time picking up where it left off, returning January 3 with Daniel W.J. Mackenzie‘s languid Every Time Feels Like the Last Time. After a long wait, the vinyl version of Andreas Usenbenz‘ Bells Breath should finally see release this February; Klangold released the sleep version last year. The album highlights the 13 bells of the Ulm Minster tower. And it’s been a while since we’ve heard from The Fun Years, so their new album comes as a welcome surprise. Vinyl static, melodic guitars and a sense of belonging converge on Heroes of the Second Story Walkup, due early in the year on vinyl ~ yes, vinyl ~ from Spring Break Tapes.
Johannes Malfatti snowshoes his way into 2017 with Surge, a slice of ice from the always-reliable Glacial Movements. The single-track, hour-long piece sounds like a slow struggle in the bitter cold; it was recorded in the Alps, and the influence is apparent (January 6). Howlround returns with A Creak in Time, which comes across as Halloween in winter (Psyche Tropes, January 27). Fresh from a bout of on-site cold weather recordings, Lawrence English applies the influence of Antarctic wind to Cruel Optimism, filling the valleys with clouds of drone (Room40, February 17). English also lends his touch to Specimens‘ debut Sculptures, which hides many treats below the preview track (First Terrace Records, January 13). And Fabrica has three releases on the docket for winter: Alan Courtis‘ Los Galpones (January), Letha-Rodman Melchior‘s Theia (Feburary) & Rapoon‘s Dream Circle (March).
The Jewel of Japan
Home Normal begins the new year with a quiet surge. After late 2016 releases from label boss Ian Hawgood and Mere (available in Japan before international release), the label is ready to unveil two reissues from Tobias Hellkvist: an extended version of Vesterkavet and a remixed version of Kaskelot (January 31), followed by James Murray‘s gorgeous Killing Ghosts (February 28) and Ken Ikeda and David Toop‘s mysterious Skin Tones (March 15). There’s a lot more to come this year, and for those who don’t want to miss out, a subscription series is available; see Home Normal’s site for details.
We love the look of these cassettes from Austria’s Moozak label ~ they represent four of the eight covers for Juan Antonio Nieto‘s Imperfect, a study of digital errors that is no mistake. The digital version went on the market a month ago, but these beauties will be ready for adoption on January 3.
When everyone is your group has appeared on one of our year-end lists (including four in 2016), you definitely qualify as a supergroup. FOUDRE! is comprised of Frédéric D. Oberland (Oiseaux-Tempête, The Rustle Of The Stars, FareWell Poetry), Romain Barbot and Grégory Buffier (Saåad), Paul Régimbeau (Mondkopf) and includes Christine Ott on ondes martenot. EARTH (due on Gizeh Records February 17) is the soundtrack to an experimental film about a post-apocalyptic world, and offers somber and dramatic sounds suitable to the occasion. Check out the preview piece below!
Okada‘s blend of ambience and electronics never fails to impress. Floating Away From the World contains four long tracks, but requires no patience to appreciate; these works unfold at an elegant pace (n5MD, January 27). Also on n5MD: Field Rotation, The Green Kingdom and others remix tracks from Reversed on the 4-track EP Reversed – Remixes (January 13). Ulrich Schauss made a great impression with his debut album two decades ago; Passage, his new collaboration with Jonas Munk, may be his finest work since then, a reminder of past glories and a hint of something new (Azure Vista, January 27). Kassel Jaeger and Jim O’Rourke combine forces for the lovely and intricate Wakes on Cerulean, an album of many microsound treasures (Editions Mego, March 10). Guitar and strings play among the synthesized notes on the second album from Vermont, simply titled II (Kompakt, February 10). Visible Cloaks is influenced by Japanese culture and integrates organic instrumentation along with a few guest contributions, making Reassemblage one of the smartest ambient releases of the season (February 17).
Rich’s Pick #1:
Throwing Snow ~ Embers (Houndstooth, January 20)
First came the EP Cosms, and now the non-stop full album Embers, a listening experience that calls to mind the best Global Underground mixes while lacing them with a modern sensibility. The beats, the textures, the crisp mastering and the cover contribute to an overall triumph. While the new year has just begun, we can already see this appearing on a year-end list.
Rich’s Pick #2:
Project Mooncircle ~ 15th Anniversary Compilation
Already competing for a Best Packaging award, this lavish set from Project Mooncircle begins with the artwork from Dave McKean, and continues with five colored slabs of vinyl, two CDs, four bonus tracks and a t-shirt. What about the music, you ask? Jilk may be the highest profile name, but there’s a wealth of great music to be found here. Get ready to groove the winter away beginning January 6.
Dance I Say!
Bonobo is one of the scene’s most popular artists, but he’s been quiet for quite some time. The new double LP Migration (pictured to the left) should put him back on the charts ~ it’s already a hit on iTunes. But don’t let the mainstream success or the vocal tracks put you off, as this is highly intelligent, positive and addictive music (January 13). Arms and Sleepers was once a post-rock band (or so we defined them), but has since moved squarely into the electronic/hip-hop realm. They’ve pulled out all the stops for Life Is Everywhere, which is offered in multiple versions, some already sold out (lathe cut, smoke vinyl). Of particular interest to our readers: pre-orders include an instrumental version of the album (January 27). Dance grooves run rampant on the electro-tinged Alaea, from France’s Arandel (InFine, January 18). Ethnic samples join the percussion of Andi Otto‘s club-friendly VIA, preceded by the 7″ single Bangladore Whispers (Pingipung, 27 January). And a deep global flavor can be tasted on Clap! Clap!‘s life-affirming A Thousand Skies, which includes a slew of global guests (February 17).
In the battle of Frequency vs. Atkins, everybody wins ~ Mind Merge is techno for dancing, not for fighting (Out Electronic Recordings, March 6). On January 20, we’ll finally see the physical release of Tycho‘s Epoch, which has been moving bodies in digital form for months. Kangding Ray offers a techno concept album with Hyper Opal Mantis, inspired by three phases of desire ~ the last being fatal attraction (Stroboscopic Artefacts, February 24). Earthen Sea turns his painful experiences into something dubby and beautiful on An Act of Love (Kranky, February 17). Fjaak‘s self-titled album follows the success of last year’s single Wolves ~ look for it on Monkeytown January 20. And Tresor tracks new and old converge on the Dreamy Harbor compilation, pulling into dock on January 27.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Synths?
Architectural makes a shift from the beat-driven to the mood-driven on Metropolitan Opera, a study in dramatic ambience with only a few hints of percussion (January 27). Oto Hiax needs no drums; their sounds are sweet enough on their own. The duo’s self-titled debut album draws from ambience and drone, coalescing into a modern electronic fantasia (Editions Mego, January 27). Simon Fischer Turner presents a series of pieces that start with piano, field recordings and twinkles, only to be swallowed by drones. Don’t be fooled by the preview track; this one is darker than it seems. Giraffe pokes its head above the leaves on February 10 (Editions Mego). Typhonian Highlife (Spencer Clark) plays synths like a church organ on The World of Shells, due February 17 on End of the Alphabet.
“There’s nothing out there.” These words introduce Nothing Left to Abandon, the futuristic, industrial-flecked dream of clocolan. But it’s not all hopeless, as little bits of light shine through (Enpeg, January 13). L-XIII‘s Obsidian EP is more cinematic in nature, with highlights of synth and piano (January). Dark techno and industrial join forces with unidentifiable ghosts on the debut from Copenhagen’s Metalized Man. The only part of the release that hints at the mainstream is the title: Losing Your Virginity: Metalized Boy’s First Adventures in Manhood (January 27). The fourth album from Egyptrixx continues to investigate the outer fringes, with percussion akin to breaking glass and a sense of overall menace. Pure, Beyond Reproach is out February 3 on Halocline Trance. And the vinyl version of Perverts in White Shirts’ Power to the Sheeple will be released on the last day of January; expect lots of squelch, creative female vocals and a devil-may-care attitude (Cruel Bones).
Don’t Go in the Basement
When a label is named Blackest Ever Black, one expects darkness, which is exactly what one finds on Themes, from the oddly-monkered artist NAAAHHH. “Drums optional,” reads the press release, but there’s plenty of moaning (January 20). Emptyset‘s Borders is rough and repetitive, and not for the fainthearted (Thrill Jockey, January 27). Two producers join forces as The Empire Line for an EP laced with murky undercurrents; Syndicat de la Couture sounds like the soundtrack to an apocalypse, and is out January 23 on Avian.
Quicker Tempos and IDM
Raster-Noton is known for being a forward-thinking label, and Jesse Osborne-Lanthier‘s Unlicensed, Unalloyed, All Night! continues to honor this template with an invitation to dance, while granting permission to simply listen. It’s also the last of nine releases in the unun series (January 13). Eight artists are represented on Power Vacuum’s compilation Vectors 3, whose first teaser video is pretty crazy (January 24).
Marcus Fjellström ~ Skelektikon (Miasmah)
The Miasmah label is a haven for dark experimental music. Skelektikon lurks in the long, cold Swedish night, eager to curl up by the fire and get warm. But it’s not eager to share the warmth; it’s more likely to eat whoever is inside. Dark ambience, drone, disjointed percussion and other warped sounds collide on this soon-to-be-classic haunted release (February 3).
Circuits and Wires
Jos Smolders’ Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording is a lesson in Zen abstraction. The sounds may not be those of a temple, but their placement is like stones in a garden. Nowhere can still be somewhere, or even Everywhere (Crónica, January 10). Gintas K allows his fragmented sounds to roll around like marbles and ice; the album’s title Particles is well chosen (Cronica, February 7). In contrast, Muddersten offers improvisations that honor the trio’s title ~ hardened clay whose cracks are beginning to show. Karpatklokke is out January 13 on Sofa.
Improvisations and Jams
Microtub is short for Microtonal Tuba, and it’s a pretty catchy moniker. The trio’s third album, Bite of the Orange, is out February 10 on Sofa. Veteran Zeena Parkins continues to stretch boundaries on the self-explanatory album Three Harps, Tuning Fork and Electronics (Good Child Music, January 27). The Necks take advantage of the double-vinyl format to present one long-form jam each side; Timepiece is released February 10 on Ideologic Organ. Han-earl Park, Dominic Lash, Mark Sanders and Caroline Pugh make quite a racket on Sirene 1009, tossing clatter and gentle obscenities all around the playroom (January 31). Keiji Haino, Jozef Dumoulin and Teun Verbruggen form a small supergroup (super trio?) on The Miracles of Only One Thing, due January 10 on Sub Rosa. And we’re not really sure what UnicaZürn‘s Transpandorem will sound like, since we haven’t heard any samples; but we do like the cover, and we trust the label (Touch, January 27).
Bang on the drum all day
Moebius was in the midst of polishing the recorded version of his score to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but sadly passed away before he could finish his work. Fortunately, his dedicated family and former band members teamed up to realize his vision, which now operates as both opus and tribute. Bureau B will release Musik für Metropolis on January 6. IIKKI Books returns on January 17 with its sophomore set, pairing Andreas Belfi (music) and Matthias Heiderich (art). While one can purchase Belfi’s music for Alveare separately ~ a highly percussive affair ~ we recommend the hardback book, which provides a worthy multi-media experience. Percussion fans will also want to check out Jon Mueller (Death Blues)’s dHrAaNwDn on Rhythmplex. The album distills six hours of drumming in a Shaker Meeting House to a portable home listening experience. Die cut jackets, candles and muslin are all part of the deluxe package (February 10).
15 Years of Important Records
As Important Records wraps up its anniversary celebration, it has plenty of plans for the new year ~ so many that we’ll let them tell you themselves! The latest press release begins with gratitude for the influence of a fallen friend. “I’m incredibly grateful for the wisdom Pauline Oliveros shared with me both through her work and through our friendship. In the few weeks before her death we started planning a number of projects which will be released in 2017 and beyond. These projects include vinyl version of the Deep Listening Band‘s cistern recordings, vinyl version of pieces from the Reverberations boxed set and LP releases of unreleased pieces from her catalog including a live performance at Expo 70 and her collaborative cassette release with Guy Klucevsek. The first new records in 2017 will be a double LP from Caterina Barbieri, a double LP from Alessandro Cortini & Merzbow, a reissue of the incredible Mask Of The Imperial Family LP from 1981, ELEH/Christina Kubisch split LP, ELEH Home Age I LP, Charlemagne Palestine & Grumbling Fur double LP, handmade/super limited LP from Growing and an LP from Jacob Kirkegaard. Also, we’re working very closely with a few artist archives and you’ll be seeing the first of many releases from Tod Dockstader, Roland Kayn and Alvin Lucier plus a new Sonambient LP, more from Pauline Oliveros, Eliane Radigue and many of my personal favorite artists on the label.” Experimental fans, rejoice!
Discrepant has a neat one coming up with its Anthology of Atypical Portuguese Music, covering all manner of styles, vocal and instrumental. These are not old songs, but new artists layering new styles over traditional frames. The theme of this first set is Work, but it seems like play (January 27). And the specialty release of the season is Andreas O Hirsch‘s aptly-titled ROW, which highlights the rhythmic sounds of the Dutch rowing team and their coxswain (makiphon, February 17).
Max Richter ~ Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works (Deutsche Grammophon, January 27)
Max Richter won our Album of the Year honors in 2015, so it’s no surprise that his latest opus is our pick of the season in Modern Composition. Not content to rest on his laurels, Richter provides the score to a Royal Ballet production based on works by Virginia Woolf. On this album he returning to a technique used in The Blue Notebooks by includes narration, but not just any narration. The finale includes Woolf’s suicide note as read by Gillian Anderson. Richter is not afraid of risk, and on this album, his courage pays off once more.
The Big Guns
In late 2016, Dustin O’Halloran teamed with Hauschka on the score for Lion, while Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie recorded Salero. Now A Winged Victory for the Sullen reunites for the score to Iris, which is bound to have listeners swooning even before the visuals are seen (Erased Tapes, January 13). Björk collaborator Olivier Alary has been recording for years, but Fiction/Non-Fiction is his first release under his real name. He’s been signed to Fatcat’s resurgent 130701 imprint, and the set is preceded by an EP of remixes, including Ian William Craig’s exquisite take on “Nollywood” (February 17).
Danish film composer Jonas Colstrup is preparing to release Between Sound and Silence, which he describes as a “soundtrack to contemplation and the winter darkness.” We’ll be unveiling a premiere track in a few days, but for now you can hear short samples here. Vancouver pianist Nathan Shubert unveils his debut album Folds on January 27; he’s already made an impression on Nils Frahm. Listen to the preview track here. How to make your piano album stand out in a crowded field? Invite remixers. Alex Kozobolis’ long-awaited album Weightless includes four original tracks and four reworkings that veer into the electronic and experimental realms. To listen is to enter two different worlds (1631 Recordings, January 27). Also on 1631: Dirk Maassen‘s brooding but lovely The Wind and the Sand (January 27), along with new efforts from Angus Macrae (February) and Sophie Hutchings (March 10). Angelina Yershova continues to experiment with the innards of her piano, as well as electronic processing; Resonance Night is due February 17 on Twin Paradox Records.
Think you know the accordion?
Think again. This isn’t “Beer Barrel Polka.” Mario Batkovic lends the instrument a sense of immediacy laden with emotional drama, something we didn’t think was possible. Invada unveils Eponymous on March 17, preceded by the preview track Quatere.
Ravello Records rolls out the McCormick Percussion Ensemble on January 13: twenty marimbists and one accompanist on piano! Marimba Concerti offers a unique sound, and must have been a lot of fun to record. Jane O’Leary offers works for string quartet, clarinet, accordion, flute and more on the wintry The Passing Sound of Forever, due January 13 on Navona Records. It’s one of six chamber releases from the label on the same day, and while some are choral, all are worth checking out. Bing & Ruth have been quiet for a while, but return on 4AD with No Home of the Mind on February 17, once again combining piano and strings with an avant-garde sensibility.
Spring Sneak Preview
We’re pretty sure our pick of the spring will be the new album from Daniel Bjarnason and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. Recording was completed in December, and we can expect the album to be released this April on Sono Luminus. According to the press release, “The new album will include Daníel Bjarnason’s Emergence, Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s Flow and Fusion, María Huld Markan’s Aequora, Anna Thorvaldsdóttir’s Dreaming, and a work by Hlynur A. Vilmarsson.” We really didn’t need a press release on this one, just the announcement; we’re excited beyond measure! The same holds true for Jeremy Bible‘s Human Savagery, the audio-visual accompaniment to a massive multi-media performance that included extensive aerial photography and an immersive orchestral score. Crash Ensemble debuted Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Ghosts in 2014, and 2017 will see the release of the album of the same name, including three other long-form works. The release was first slated for last fall, but the release date is now April 17 on Bedroom Community. And Bigo & Twigetti and Moderna Records are having an awful lot of fun with The Exquisite Corpse, passing tracks back and forth between artists and posting samples as they are completed. The full project is due in April.
Rock, Post-Rock, Folk & Jazz
Christian Frederickson ~ The Painted Bird/Amidst
You’d have to go all the way back to our former site to find our review of 2010’s Bastard, but we’ve never forgotten it. Part II of Christian Frederickson‘s score for The Painted Bird is due on January 6, and will be launched in New York with an encore presentation of the original dance piece. Amidst stands among his best works to date, stretched across the border of chamber music and post-rock. The inspiration is Jerry Kosinski’s wrenching 1965 novel, while the ballet direction and choreography are by Pavel Zuštiak.
Eric Arn honors John Fahey on Orphic Resonance, a sprawling solo guitar set that we suspect is even more impressive in a live setting (Feeding Tube, January 27). Meanwhile, Ross Hammond adopts more of an Appalachian style on Follow Your Heart, due February 17.
Please, can we call this post-rock?
What’s next for Virgin Babylon? The label just grabbed our Album of the Year award, and its next release is the mysterious Lost in Forest from Downy guitarist Aoki Yutaka. 36 seconds is not much to go on, but we like what we’re hearing (January 18). The Tortoise-related Brokeback returns with Illinois River Valley Blues this February, over two decades after it began (Thrill Jockey). Grails doesn’t sound quite like Grails anymore, but we admire the band for touching up its sound. Chalice Hymnal is lighter and more melodic than one might expect, unless one takes into consideration the last two albums from Lilacs & Champagne. We’re betting that the new album opens new doors for the band (Temporary Residence, January 17). We continue to insist that Montreal’s Avec le Soleil Sortant de Sa Bouche sounds like a cross between A Silver Mt. Zion and David Byrne, a high energy combination that must be heard to be believed. Pas pire pop, I Love You So Much deserves to be heard in its entirety as the non-stop jam that it is (Constellation, January 20).
A Prog Veteran and a Prog Tribute
When Mike Oldfield released Ommadawn in 1975, his sound was very much of the time, even a little futuristic. Fast-forward 30 years, and Return to Ommadawn seeks to recapture former glories. We’ll be honest ~ it sounds just like his old stuff, so older fans will be overjoyed (Virgin EMI, January 20). But for fans who want something newer in nature, we recommend Set and Setting‘s Reflectionless, in which the strongest tribute is the Pink Floyd-influenced cover (Science of Silence/dunk!, January 27).
High Aura’d and others appear on Oikos’ The Great Upheaval, which allows time for expansive builds before bursting into dark eruptions. “Menace and Portent” includes a bit of doom, perfect for its title (E/C and Knockturne, January 13). Hubris calls their latest single Doom Mons, although it’s not as scary as one might think; the ten-minute track is occasionally heavy but more often sweet. It’s the lead track from Apocryphal Gravity, due this spring (yes, spring ~ that’s advance promotion!) from Cold Smoke Records. Is doom without drums still doom? Twinesuns insists that it is, and The Empire Never Ended makes a convincing argument ~ see the teaser below (Pelagic, January 27). And while it’s not technically doom metal, Richard Pinhas‘ Reverse boasts the dark and claustrophobic feeling we associate with the genre (Bureau B, January 27).
Other Lively Critters
South American post-metal band Labirinto has just signed to Pelagic Records, and is ready to ruffle feathers with the aggressive sounds of Gehenna on February 10. Drunken Sufis sounds like it’s gone sober on Pala Pala, which retains the experimentalism of prior efforts while infusing a heavy melodic sensibility (January 20). The Argonauts offer a groovy form of “surf dub psyche” on their debut album Here Come the Argonauts!, aiming for beaches in winter (January 15).
Happy New Year, everyone! We hope you’ve heard something you love!
What an amazing, thorough article. Lots to look forward to already!
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Very comprehensive article! Thanks a lot!