A CLOSER LISTEN weekly #36.5
BONUS: First Half Highlights ~ The Top 20
Happy July! At the halfway point of the year, we've asked our staff to list their favorite albums of the year to date. While not a complete indicator of year-end honors, last year six of our First Half Highlights made our Year-End Top 20. We are especially thrilled to see that a few of the albums on our mid-year list were prophesied in our New Year's Day article, The Top Ten Albums of 2023. They've made it halfway; will they complete the race?
Another fun thing about this list is that only two albums were nominated by multiple reviewers, which means that 2023's top prize is still up for grabs. We're already eyeing second-half releases by Spurs, Lawrence English & Lea Bertucci, and Jóhann Jóhannsson, Iceland Symphony Orchestra & Daníel Bjarnason as possible contenders.
Whether you're catching up or looking back, we hope that you'll enjoy this review of winter and spring. We wish all of our readers a happy summer as well!
Alexander Stratonov ~ Bucha: Final Destination Original Soundtrack
A harrowing event, partially caught on camera, has now become a documentary, a flashpoint for the Ukrainian people and a sobering reminder to the world not to look away. The lives taken by Russian soldiers in Bucha cannot be resurrected, but neither can they be forgotten. Stratonov's score provides the requisite drama and sorrow.
Cruel Diagonals ~ Fractured Whole (Beacon Sound)
A change of direction for the artist has led to the finest album of her career. Every sound here stems from her voice. In the same way as these sounds were first whole, then fractured and reassembled, so is the soul of Megan Mitchell and by extension, the listener's psyche.
Drum & Lace ~ Frost EP (Self-Released)
Does anyone remember winter? Frost was released in January, and while the music may be melting now, its time will come around again. The EP combines compilation appearances and remixes with new material, and comes across like a mini-pastry; after one has enjoyed it, one immediately wants more.
Erik Hall ~ Casto Ostinato (Simeon ten Holt) (Western Vinyl)
Everything old is new again. These pieces were written for piano in the 70s, and half a century later they reappear in a new form, multitracked with electronics. The joy is palpable, while 106 sections flow like a single piece, each generation passing the baton to the next.
GoGo Penguin ~ Everything Is Going to Be OK (Sony XXIM)
The sentiment may seem unrealistic, but it's exactly what we need to hear right now. Better yet, GoGo Penguin seems to believe it with every fiber of their existence. The interplay between jazz, modern composition and electronics produces a palette of comfort. Even though the album is instrumental, the title permeates the music.
Hammock ~ Love in the Void (Hammock Music)
We started cheering for this album on January 1, and our accolades continue at the mid-year point. While the preceding trilogy delved into personal heartbreak, the new album addresses communal uncertainty. Shoegaze and post-rock seem uniquely suited to act as salves, and on this album, the guitars wash over the listener like grace.
Hollie Kenniff ~ We All Have Places That We Miss (Western Vinyl)
The title is a perfect descriptor of the sounds within. Literally, Kenniff's family had to part with their multi-generational vacation home during the pandemic. Literally and figuratively, we've all lost something ~ whether a location, a person or a feeling, and often all three. The album is the personification of hiraeth, nostalgic and empathetic all at once.
Kate NV ~ WOW (RVNG Intl.)
This is a fun one: no pretense, no guile, just a childlike joy in making sound. The videos are bright and colorful, like toy boxes brought to life. If one likes cats, birds, dinner and/or naps, they're all here. Bring the crayons; WOW is a play date for all ages.
KMRU ~ glim (Self-Released)
With glim, the Nairobi artist returns to the ambience that established his name, yet adds field recordings and drone, and ends on an unsettling note. Even in the middle, the notes wobble like kingdoms or mindsets waiting to topple. The world is in flux right now, and so is the artist; the music is like a mirror, but it's up to the listener to decide if it's distorted.
Maud the Moth & tradedesaliva ~ Bordando el manto terrestre (Time Released Sound)
Combining forces and strengths, Maud the Moth & trajedesaliva produce a unique document, a gothic-ethereal tribute to Spanish painter Remedios Varo, who lived in exile in Mexico but whose influence continues today. Time Released Sound gives the release the treatment it deserves; the film can edition is especially evocative.
Neal Cowley ~ Battery Life (Mote)
Battery Life asks a modern question: what is the value of a memory when virtually everything can be stored and replayed? The music approaches this question at an angle, its melancholy timbres calling up memories and their associated feelings without use of words or images. Neal Cowley's conclusion: memories cannot be captured by one sense alone.
Oksana Hritseva ~ Mundane Levitation (система|system)
This Ukrainian Field Notes gem may have been produced in 2001, but still sounds contemporary, especially when considering the contrast between titles such as "Love" and "Mindfield." How much of Ukrainian culture will be destroyed by the war? For once, it's encouraging to hear something unearthed, rather than eradicated.
PALLADIAN ~ Ocra (Loci Records)
The music of this Barcelona duo exudes a pure Mediterranean vibe, arriving on the cusp of summer, eager to dive into the salty sea. A slightly retro vibe permeates the recording, bringing back memories of an Ibiza DJ set or mix tape. Let the music play, and let your soul be soothed.
Penelope Trappes ~ Heavenly Spheres (Nite Hive)
Filtered, ethereal and solitary, Heavenly Spheres was recorded with only voice, a piano and reel-to-reel. Fittingly, it was originally released on cassette tape, so listeners might create impressions of impressions, ghosts of ghosts. Time seems to unravel along with the spools; Trappes is present yet disembodied, a mournful spectre.
PoiL Ueda - S/T (Dur et Doux)
Evil spirits, naval battles and clan clashes populate the bizarre grooves of PoiL Ueda, which is itself a combination of forces: PoiL and Junko Ueda. The music is as busy as the cover; there's a lot going on here. No single timbre dominates; the album is the epitome of experimental, characterized less by genre than by energy.
Sabiwa ~ Island no. 16 – Memories of Future Landscapes (Phantom Limb)
If one were to sneak through the forest and happen upon a ritualistic ceremony from a lost Thai tribe, it might sound something like this. Sabiwa draws on the traditions of the Thau, Bunun and Atayal people, yet creates an original melange. The title is disorienting; in the story, as well as in the music, one wonders what happens next?
Sergio Diaz de Rojas ~ Muerte en una tarde de verano (Nettwerk)
The album's intimacy is apparent from its opening moments: the birds in the tress, distant family conversation. Muerte en una tarde de verano is a mediation on mourning and loss, a tender piano suite that recalls loved ones gone and others in danger, and considers the worth of a single day.
Sigur Rós - ÁTTA (KRUNK)
The event album of the year to date has yet to sink in, but it's already made an impact on our staff. ÁTTA is pure emotion, exactly what one expects from the Icelandic trio. But this time, they've been through the wringer as well as us; the album is a reflection of struggle and hard-won peace.
Tujiko Norito ~ Crépuscule I & II (Editions MEGO)
This double album is gentle as a cirrus cloud. Beginning with a prayer and ending with a promise (the nearly 19-minute "Don't Worry, I'll Be Here"), Norito sings and sways like a flower in the wind. Less an album that one listens to than one experiences, Crépuscule I & II may change the emotional trajectory of one's day.
ummsbiaus ~ Enerhomor (Mystictrax)
The cover image was taken in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone; the label resides in the same area. The world is still on edge, wondering if terrorists will cause a meltdown that affects all of Europe. This industrial-edged EP emphasizes the danger while gracing it with a strange, unnatural glow.