We’re already one week into the new year (Can you believe 1/52 of 2021 is already over?) and early on it’s shaping up to be a solid year of music. We’re hoping that as nations emerge from isolation, we’ll start to see some of our favorite things return: concerts, clubs, festivals. In 2020, musicians recorded reflections of isolation; in 2021, we may hear outpourings of joy.
Today we arrive at the last of our previews, as we delve into some of the season’s heaviest sounds. Our pick of the season comes from an old favorite, but we also find a four-LP set from a veteran guitarist, and a host of genre cross-splices. And now, without further ado, A Closer Listen presents the winter slate of new releases in Rock, Post-Rock, Folk and Jazz!
Rich’s Pick: Mogwai ~ As the Love Continues (Temporary Residence Ltd., February 19)
Will this be the year that post-rock returns? We certainly hope so, as 2020 was a bit shy in that department. Fortunately there’s a new Mogwai album on the horizon, offered in multiple formats that include a box set with photo book and unheard demos. Mogwai is notoriously hard to predict, as recent releases have included a vocal set and a number of film scores, but instrumental lead single “Dry Fantasy” is a promising start, with sweet 80s bass and a refreshingly positive vibe.
Rock and Post-Rock
Roy Montgomery is celebrating 40 years of music making by releasing 4 albums in 2021, available separately or as a set. First out the gate is Island of Lost Souls, on which the mesmerizing guitar creates a tapestry of religious feeling (Grapefruit, January 5). Psychedelic guitarist Plankton Wat (from Eternal Tapestry) returns with the socially relevant Future Times, offering instrumental commentaries on everything from “the healing power of nature to the fervor of social protest.” The album drops February 26 on Thrill Jockey. Spiral Wave Nomads‘ First Encounters is one long jam session in four parts, a fun and free-wheeling journey. The title has a double meaning as the album was released on New Year’s Day (Twin Lakes/Feeding Tube).
Temidden Laaghangende Wolken starts quietly, but turns into rock; most people won’t see it coming. This is the debut LP for The Begotten, a duo that became a trio when the keyboardist and guitarist added a drummer. Good choice (Aguirre, January 22)! Also on Aguirre, the flowing rock / jazz / experimental flavors of Crazy Doberman, whose Two Tales of Lost Witness veers wildly between genres, justifying their name (January 22). And don’t forget to check our Drone section for the other two Aguirre albums being released that day!
The “useless” in FLeUR‘s Caring About Something Utterly Useless is music; obviously the title is tongue-in-cheek. Some parts of the album were composed for installations and theatre works, others in lockdown. From drone to beats to one vocal track, the set is incredibly diverse (Bosco, February 12). Jeremiah Cymerman and Charlie Looker join forces for the brooding A Horizon Made of Canvas, where waves of clarinet meet guitar in a meditative meld (Astral Spirits, February 5). Bardo Pond guitarists John and Michael Gibbons return as Vapour Theories to present Celestial Scuzz, a guitar/reverb battle that comes across as a blend of rock and drone (Fire, February 26).
To honor the death of his mother, Chris Miner (solarminds) recorded the three long tracks of Her Spirit Cracked the Sky, the outer two post-rock and the center track vocal. Hand-drawn art makes the release feel even more personal (Mind Altering Records, January). The folk-tinged The Flight of the Certainty Kids is preceded by an intriguing double-A single and drops January 21, from Bunny & the Invalid Singers and Bearsuit Records. Folk and rock combine on Unsung, an instrumental album from the typically vocal-minded Myles Cochran (February), while Goodparley alternates between acoustic guitar and drone on Canvas (Submarine Broadcasting Company, January 15). Greeting the new year with joy, the nine-strong We Used to Cut the Grass offers the short but explosive Visitors Pomp. Strings, brass, theremin, 50s sci-fi samples and Fire-Toolz mastering will always get our attention. There’s a beat, and we can dance to it. And there you have it ~ our 2021 formula for success (January 1)!
When encountering a band named Mushroom Project, one already expects acid-drenched grooves, and that’s just what one gets on the Lalo Elijah jam session, originally released in a private run (Tonefloat, January 30). Sax, dub and funk meet on the swirling, multi-cultural Samā’ī, the cosmic debut album from Azmari following last year’s EP (Sdban Ultra, January 22). Endlingr‘s heavy psych rock leaves only tiny sections for reflection before plunging back into a morass of guitar and drums. From the Molten Vaults is out January 15 on Consouling Sounds. Rock on! Heavy 80s prog meets Heavy Metal sci-fi visuals on Die England‘s over-the-top Starzinger, set for release “early in 2021.” There’s even an Ultimate Edition including book and chain. The electronic prog (elecprog? progtronic?) of Good Willsmith gets a workout on HausLive 2: Good Willsmith at Sleeping Village, 4/25/19. But what kind of mood was the village in when they were woken by the band (Hausu Mountain, January 8)?
While we look forward to possible festivals in 2021, dunk! records is looking back to 2019, and will be releasing Coastlands‘ Live at dunk!fest 2019 on double vinyl this February. Looking far into the future (March 19, the last day of winter), we find Stearica continuing the welcome tradition of composing new scores to old films. The thick post-rock of Golem 202020 provides a frightening backdrop to 1920’s Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (Monotreme, March 19). Māori / Cherokee duo Divide and Dissolve offer some serious sax ‘n’ sludge (new genre?) on Gas Lit, which seeks to draw attention to native peoples and the threat of white supremacy. The first video, We Are Really Worried About You, provides a strong taste of what is to come (Invada, January 29).
There are some vocals on Camera‘s Prosthuman, but with krautrock so doggone catchy, we can’t resist. The grooves make us want to dance, although we hope we never meet the akephaloi on the cover (Bureau B, February 19). A dozen musicians make a huge racket as Milteto on the all-out jam session In Trux We Pux 03, whose Michael Myers/Jason Voorhees cover art is a bit off-putting (Favela Discos, February 12). But the season’s hardest release comes from The Body, whose “towering monolith of noise” is full-on distortion, crunch, mangled vocals and everything a listener might need to drive away unwanted guests. Warning: some home speakers may not be able to handle such violence. I’ve Seen All I Need to See is out January 29 on Thrill Jockey.
In case you’re wondering, the more experimental jazz is found in our Experimental section, while the more accessible jazz is found over here. We start with the soothing sounds of Kiri Ra!, whose exclamation point is a bit misleading. The self-titled album is actually a blend of folk and jazz, languid sax playing off peaceful piano, soothing field recordings and light electronics: perfect for watching the snow (OONA, February 5). Speaking of sax, we’ve got a happy entry from Samuel Sharp, who uses delay pedals and electronics to produce Patterns Various. It’s hard to choose a highlight, but “Catching Leaves” is particularly upbeat (Boot Cycle Audio, February 19).
On Arancina, award-winning Canadian pianist assembles a warm circle of friends to celebrate the aspects of home. The globetrotting album will be released on Chronograph Records January 15. Smooth jazz is represented by the organic / electronic blend of Patrick Bradley, who begins the new year by encouraging listeners to Exhale (January 15). Lujo Asiático‘s Ganbare is a blend of jazz and prog, with a comfortable, laid-back vibe (March). Spiritual tones inhabit the prog fusion of Overstand, from the quartet Apifera. The album’s folk influences range from Ghana to Sudan to Israel, creating a global vibe (Stone’s Throw, January 15). The head-nodding, toe-tapping jazz rock of De Beren Gieren is extremely contagious, especially when accompanied by morphing line drawings. Less Is Endless is out February 19 on Sdban Ultra.