We absolutely love this time of year at A Closer Listen. As we survey the musical landscape, we see over 200 new releases on the near horizon and our hearts are filled with hope. Artists continue to be inspired, labels continue to release albums, and we have the privilege of previewing a healthy selection of new music. This might turn out to be a pretty good year after all. Over a quarter of our winter announcements are found in the fields of ambient and drone ~ perfect sounds to accompany snowed-in evenings with candlelight and friends, or perhaps a good book. We hope you’ll find your next favorite album right here!
Our cover image is a photo of St. Moritz in Switzerland ~ a lovely place to start the new year!
Rich’s Pick: Steve Roden ~ stars of ice (Room40, February 4)
It’s no surprise that we’re starting the new year with Room40, our Label of the Year for 2021. Stars of Ice is one of two albums from Steve Roden, a perfect pick for the colder months. The Chinese Christmas carol “Stars of Ice” is abraded and looped, while an old 78 titled “snow” is sampled in a field of frost. Roden’s other Room40 album is the polar opposite: a green and lush set packed with toys and bells, composed for the Athens exhibition The Great Promenade. Physical copies of oionos include a book with an essay from Stephen Vitiello, an interview and more (January 14). Also on Room40: Christina Giannone investigates portals to the subconscious on Zone 7, which ventures into the land of drone; and Mike Cooper‘s disc and book set Oceans of Milk and Treacle, which investigates colonialism in India through collage, essay, field recording and music (January 14). Two more Room40 releases are listed in the Experimental section of our Winter Music Preview!
Constellation Tatsu‘s Winter Batch is only a day away! The batch includes Alex Albrecht‘s Resolve, which folds piano notes into ambient textures; Soshi Takeda‘s bright-toned Same Place, Another Time, where classic synths meet new age timbres; and Julia Gjertsen & Nico Rosenberg‘s Paisajes Imaginarios, where :piano, electronics and tape manipulation shorten the space between Norway and Chile. The batch is released January 4. As this is the label’s 10th anniversary, they will also be celebrating throughout the year with a series of tape reissues, in batches of (naturally) ten! The first set will be unveiled on February 8, featuring Celer, Hakobune and more. Somewherecold Records has already mapped out all of its releases for the year ~ now that’s what we call advance planning! The first preview is Hidden, from The Quietist: a reserved recording that drifts and falls (February 25). Also on the winter docket: albums from Sonder (February 11), Orange Crate Art (February 18, covered under Rock and Post-Rock), Autodealer (March 4), Chad Mossholder (March 11) and Pjusk (March 18).
The Seaman and the Tattered Sail return on Fluid Audio with the triple album Standing on the Precipice of Tears: two discs of instrumentals followed by a long disc of creative covers, including “Wichita Lineman,” “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” There’s something for everybody here, and of course the release comes in the usual expansive (but not expensive) packaging (February 6). Roel Meelkop & Marco Douma‘s Hoek is a handmade book and CD package, the score to an original video work that can be accessed digitally through the purchase. The Corner, as it is known in Rotterdam, has been a defense against Nazis and a beach resort; its storied history finds new life here (esc.rec., January 18). New micro-label Bivalve will offer four split releases this year, starting with L’ombra del giardino, where Carlo Giustini and Banished Pills offer sonic reflections on garden spaces (January 10).
It’s hard to find a more ambient title than Immersed in Clouds. Jim Perkins‘ brief set of violin pieces is as ephemeral as the sky, the strings shifting beneath the breeze (Bigo & Twigetti, January 28). The gentle ivory miniatures of Seamus O’Muineachain are collected on Different Time Zones, while different hemispheres are suggested on the lead single Summer Lightning (Ghost Home Recordings, January 7). Pianist Vanessa Wagner interprets songs by the Enos, Budd, Muhly and more on Study of the Invisible, in many cases bringing the compositions to ivory for the first time (InFine, February 9). The meditative Sonescent casts a spell through organic instruments such as flute, clarinet and glazed ceramic, leaving listeners in a state of abject calm. While Matchess is a fine name for the collective, Mattress might have been more fitting (Drag City, February 25). Dedicated to a beloved feline (and pictured on the cover), Jimmy Behan‘s Here We Are Now is a gentle excursion, like a soft purr (Audiobulb, January 5). Also reflecting its name, the new collaboration between Drifting in Silence and E J R M, Pathways, does indeed sound like a winter drift (Labile, February 11). The Home Normal and Polar Seas labels start the year with a joint release from Ian Hawgood and Brad Deschamps under the moniker Rosales. The loop-based Woven Songs is out February 18.
On Letters to Mouse, Tarbolton Bachelors Club incorporates the poetry of Rabbie Burns into synth textures, pensive and bright (Subexotic, January 28). Delayed from last year (along with hundreds of other releases across the board), Maya Shenfeld‘s In Free Fall is finally set for release January 28. The organic-electronic hybrid includes trumpet and a processed youth choir, and occasionally bursts into sparkling synth, as on “Body, Electric” (Thrill Jockey). Trumpeter Trösta joins Dirk Serries for Island on the Moon, a gently uplifting album on Consouling Sounds (January 28). A series of insomniac nights produced High & Lonesome, the pedal steel of The Howard Hughes Suite like a lullaby in the darkness (February 18). On Open, ambient jazz coats the room with a veneer of calm; the piano and sax of Tapani Rinne and Juha Mäki-Patola seem like old friends coming in from the cold (Hush Hush, March 4).
After releasing an album of nostalgic dance tracks inspired by New Order and the like, Kit Grill is ready to shift gears. Although Spirit was recorded at the same time as Fragile, it sounds completely different: as the artist puts it, the album is about “creating a sparse uncluttered world” (Primary Colours, February 18). Deison‘s double disc Magnetic Debris vol. 1 & 2 is a restrained affair, rife with subtleties. The sources were repurposed from tape loops and magnetic sounds (January 14). Ryan Huber‘s Subterrane is quiet until it’s not: moments of near-silence are juxtaposed with subterranean rumbles (January 2). The CLOSE\STARE compilation (pictured upper left) presents a host of new artists who work in the fields of ambient and drone, increasing the discovery factor for listeners. It’s a benefit for ASIMA, an organization that helps those who are struggling with HIV and AIDS (Oigovisiones, January 24).
Lost Tribe Sound continues its Salt & Gravity series with a pair of experimental releases, one leaning in the ambient direction and the other toward drone. t’Geruis‘ Slow Dance on Moss Beds is a study in abraded sound, awash in static and loops, with a melodic undercurrent (February 11); sanr‘s ramak is far darker, with broken strings and atonal notes scattered about. See the Bandcamp video for an alternate way to play a violin (February 25, cover right). Albums from Alder & Ash and Federico Mosconi will complete the series in March.
Iceland’s Hugar started as a post-rock band, but over time an ambient-electronic tone has risen to the fore. This more subdued sound can be heard on Volt, the opening single from the upcoming Rift (Sony XXIM, January 22). Already out on New Year’s Day (way to start the new year!): David Pedrick‘s Aurora reflects the Northern lights with glimmer and glow. Antarctic Wastelands is a perfect name for an artist releasing music in winter, and Mysteries is just what one might expect: glacial synth from the sublime Echoes Blue label (February 11).
The intriguing THESIS label returns with 10″ vinyl from Corey Fuller and Richard Skelton. Isolarii (Island Books) was inspired by Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands and the idea of people as islands, separated by geography and quarantine (January 7). Those who enjoy handmade tote bags should order Spaceship‘s Ravines along with the previous record Outcrops. The two releases are tributes to the topography of Yorkshire and the industrial encroachment that threatens to ravage its resources (where it’s at is where you are, January 10). Reed solos and vocal banks populate World Speaks from Piotr Kurek. The track titles refer to works by lauded landscape artist Thomas Cole (Edições CN, January 20).
Whettman Chelmets‘ Joan is a personal project, dedicated to the memory of a grandmother who passed away during the pandemic. These samples of old gospel songs are a hint of the pain and isolation of communicating through a window when all one wants is to hold a loved one’s hand (Flaming Pines, February 25). On the day that she retired, Madame Rochat was kicked out of her apartment, and became a champion of workers’ rights. Her plight and purpose are given a full-fledged score on [No] Surrender, from Simon Grab + Francesco Giudici (~OUS, January 28).
Steve Roach has a bonus for those who buy the physical edition of Zones, Drones & Atmospheres; the disc includes the first seven songs, and the digital addition brings the total listening experience to three and a half hours (Projekt, January 14). To Orphax, Less Is More, so it must have been a treat for the artist to play live at a minimalist art exhibition. The performance was captured on an album of the same name, out January 14 on Moving Furniture. mayforest presents a 45-minute nocturne on nocny, meant to tide one through the waters of the night (January 22).
The title alone is large: Metta, Benevolence, BBC 6Music: Live on the Invitation of Mary Ann Hobbs. But this is a big album, and SUNN O))) is not known for doing anything minor. Just look at the length of those tracks: 14 minutes, 15 minutes, 32 minutes. As a bonus, the full set is already streaming. So if you like your drone dark and doom-laden, this one’s for you (January 22)!
Midira Records has a full slate announced for winter. Agate Rollings translates a long night of the soul into sound on Meantime / Elsewhere (January 14); Lee Yi‘s Hayví is thick and immersive, bordering on the meditative (January 14); Panoptique Electrical‘s Picturesque Ruins borrows from jazz to score the sound of crumbling architecture (January 14); rock rules the roost on Zerstoeren, as Hypnodrone Ensemble deconstructs thisquietarmy x N (January 21). Then on February 22, Aiden Baker and Nadja return with the percussive Nalepa (February 22); and thisquietarmy x N release a second set, the double album Zerfall / Zerfallen.
The Hard Return label offers two different releases this winter. African Ghost Valley‘s Seasons ventures into repetition and frazzled distortion (January 13), while Isnaj Dui‘s 20-minute Laapiu is an excursion into pitch-shifted flute (February 3). Deep bass and electronic textures flesh out the drones of Crack a Light, which MYMK expands to an audio-visual release through video and photographic partnerships (February 4). One of the strangest titles we’ve seen is “Serenity of the Meatgrinder,” found on Dragon & Jettenbach‘s Tales from the Algorithm. The pocket-sized release, which includes drone punctuated by percussion, is available on an engraved USB stick (January 8).
While “reduced to just the vapours,” one can still hear the dark beats of Burial struggling to burst through the walls of the Antidawn EP. The experiment is akin to a beast lurking in the basement, restrained by a fraying chain (Hyperdub, January 6). dreissk combines dark drone with beats, creating an oppressive atmosphere that may also fit in progressive industrial clubs. seiche is out January 14 on n5MD. The label is also preparing Violet Opposition, the latest opus from bvdub on yellow and magenta vinyl: a majestic set with fragmented vocals (February 4). Klara Lewis also combines drone and beats, along with choir samples and other ephemera, on the fuzzy Live in Montreal 2018, a reminder of life before the pandemic (Editions Mego, January 14).