First Half Highlights: The Top Ten

It’s hard to comprehend the distance we’ve travelled from January to June.  This January, the world was in the grip of the pandemic; now we see tangible signs of hope.  Much of the music released during the first half of the year was informed by and/or composed during the crisis.  Today, we’re taking inventory of the music we’ve reviewed so far in 2021.  Here are some of the year’s most relevant releases to date.

Ai Yamamoto ~ Pan De Sonic – Iso (Room40)
Creative families made the most of the pandemic.  These domestic sounds set to music bring us through the length of the day, from the morning alarm through the daily chores – including vacuuming and remote learning – to the evening glass of wine.


Elori Saxl ~ The Blue of Distance (Western Vinyl)
The first of two albums on this list to reference Wordsworth (could this be the year of poetry?), The Blue of Distance serves as a metaphor for the states of mind conjured by the color: from intense sadness to deep calm.  In the end, the artist settles on an oceanic peace.


Havana Swim Club ~ S/T (Self-Released)
The newest entry on our mid-year list, Havana Swim Club presents the sound of the post-pandemic summer: no longer in lockdown, but free to roam, gather, swim and celebrate.  Perfect for oceans and pools, the album offers pure pleasure, putting melancholy in the rear view mirror.


Lea Bertucci ~ A Visible Length of Light (Cibachrome Editions)
The Pacific Northwest is currently caught in a record-breaking heat wave; the aridity of this music is a perfect match.  Flute and field recordings are the hallmarks of this travelogue, which scores the coast to coast emotions of an American year.


Mogwai ~ As the Love Continues (Temporary Residence)
Many solid post-rock albums were released during the first half of the year, but the prize goes to Mogwai, returning to their instrumental base after a foray into the lyrical world.  Highlight after highlight fills these grooves, which conjure a simpler time through energy and emotion.


Murcof ~ The Alias Sessions (Leaf)
Of course we’re going to recommend Murcof.  The album made such an impact that it brought one of our reviewers out of retirement to write the review of his life.  This immersive double LP was written for choreography, but may also enhance the mood of the listener prone on the couch.


Pan Daijing ~ Jade 玉观音 (PAN)
Jade 玉观音 may not be an easy listen, or lend itself to immediate comprehension.  The artist deals with heavy emotion on her way to a scarring catharsis.  There’s no denying the power of her music as she bares her soul to strangers: a risk for her and a privilege for us.


Roxane Métayer ~ Éclipse des ocelles (Morc Records)
The music of Roxane Métayer seems to be played in an alternate universe where the normal rules don’t apply.  Instead, we encounter fairies and sprites, talking foxes and bears.  The violin sings as if it were still a tree.


Rutger Hoedemaekers ~ The Age of Oddities (FatCat/130701)
The legacy of Jóhann Jóhannsson lives on in collaborator Rutger Hoedemaekers, whose literary debut album is a bibliophile’s dream.  Packed with guest stars from Kira Kira to the Budapest Art Orchestra, The Age of Oddities keeps one memory alive while creating another.


Tomaga ~ Intimate Immensity (Hands in the Dark)
It’s always rough to review an album after a musician dies, especially when one has just recorded the finest music of his career.  We’ll miss Tom Relleen, whose groove-based work with Valentina Magaletti leaves an indelible final impression.  Here’s to better days.

Richard Allen

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