I Can’t Believe This Is Called Music! Top 2019 Albums of 2019, Part XX: 120-21

Part I: 2019-1920

Part II: 1919-1820

Part III: 1819-1720

Part IV: 1719-1620

Part V: 1619-1520

Part VI: 1519-1420

Part VII: 1419-1320

Part VIII: 1319-1220

Part IX: 1219-1120

Part X: 1119-1020

Part XI: 1019-920

Part XII: 919-820

Part XIII: 819-720

Part XIV: 719-620

Part XV: 619-520

Part XVI: 519-420

Part XVII: 419-334

Part XVIII: 333-221

Part XIX: 220-121

Part XX: 120-21

Maria Faust, Tim Dahl, and Weasel Walter – Farm Fresh (Gotta Let It Out)

The alto sax, bass, and drums trio made of Faust, Dahl, and Walter aims to bridge Eastern European folk and experimental jazz. Maria Faust’s Estonian heritage seeps into the forward-thinking delivery present on Farm Fresh from all three musicians. On her compositions, it’s a collision of worlds, excellently written and performed. The result is a fresh—farm fresh—album that is a necessary addition to any contemporary jazz library.

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Claire Rousay – Several Erasures (Already Dead Tapes)

Percussions is my weak spot. There’s something about it that fascinates, entrances me. I guess this goes with me being much more into rhythm than melody. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that I really adore percussionist Claire Rousay‘s works, which I started following with Neuter. On Several Erasures, Claire demonstrates a finer control than ever on the instruments and objects at her disposal, and creates an aural world unique and captivating. It’s a beautiful album!

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Elliott Sharp, Álvaro Domene, and Mike Caratti – Expressed by the Circumference (Iluso)

Well, with such a triumvirate, there’s almost nothing I can write that could better describe the sound of Expressed by the Circumference than the names of its makers. Elliott Sharp, Álvaro Domene, and Mike Carratti, all renowned musicians in their own rights within avant-garde music circles. Of course, the result will be mind-blowing! There isn’t much for me to say, it’s a brilliant avant-garde jazz album, as so often on Iluso!

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Untu – Rats of Oran

Untu is the metal incarnation of Gamelan Suara Baru, a Javanese gamelan collective based at California Institute of the Arts.” This alone should whet your aural appetite, and justifiably so! Rats of Oran is one step closer to a complete merger between metal and Gamelan music, the first having been made—in my own experience—by Sutrah on their Effervesce demo and following full-length, Dunes. One of my critics was that Gamelan played too much of a back-seat role, more ornamental than integral, and, while it’s still the case here with Untu, the Gamelan sound seeps much more into the music and can almost be considered vital. It’s an important and crucial step, foreboding an even more adventurous project in the future. Meanwhile, Rats of Oran is a unique and enjoyable experience.

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Casper Nyvang Rask’s Slow Evolution Ensemble – Slow Evolution Ensemble (Gotta Let It Out)

Double bassist and composer Casper Nyvang Rask’s nine-member avant-garde jazz ensemble Slow Evolution just released its self-titled debut album. Treading the fine line between improvisation and composition, the opus is varied and surprising, especially with the prevalence of synthesizers seldom present in otherwise similar-sounding releases. For this alone, Slow Evolution Ensemble is worth a listen or two, but its conception and performance on record earns it many more rewarding plays.

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Poil – Sus (Dur et doux)

Sus is far from Poil‘s first gross indecency. However, I must say that I think it’s their best so far. The French trio has carved a name for itself by playing eccentric, off-kilter, psychedelic, and complex prog, and it’s evident as to why when you take a slight listen to their upcoming effort. Eclectic and surprising, Sus is a stellar record that belongs in any avant-prog shelf. Out on April 26.

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Mark Guiliana – Beat Music! Beat Music! Beat Music! (Motéma Music)

New York drummer Mark Guiliana recently put out his latest album, the thrice-titled Beat Music! Despite a deep and extensive background as a jazz musician, the album takes on the appearance of a modern mostly-instrumental R & B or hip-hop electronic album. Once you scratch that surface a little, however, you find yourself surrounded by brilliant harmonic work, multi-layered melodies, and, above all else, astral drumming.

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Black Flower – Future Flora

The Belgian Black Flower band displaces some air with their dub-infused Ethiojazz, but I have to say they got me bamboozled. To preview their album, I gave a listen to track 2: “Maloya Bud”, and was truly flabbergasted. Everyone who follows the website slightly knows I’ve been fascinated with microrhythms for some time now, so hearing the amazing Gnawa rhythm on this song got be really hyped up. I was ready to place Future Flora among my candidate albums of the year, imagining the rest of the album would also feature similar rhythms. In the end, it is the only song with a predominance of xenorhythms, so I was a little crestfallen, but the remainder of the album is highly enjoyable on its own terms. There’s nonetheless a big influence of world music from different traditions in there, and the whole of it is brilliantly executed!

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Kooba Tercu – خروب (Kharrúb) (Hominid Sounds)

The psychedelic, noisy, progressive, post-rock band Kooba Tercu will be releasing their new album, خروب (Kharrúb), on the eleventh. Their new compositions sound quite heavily influenced by Middle-East music. Whether that turns out to be true or not, the album is a brilliant one with a powerfully driving sound behind it. You can already preview three of the seven tracks on record, and I advise you to do so because they provide a nice sample of what can be found there!

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Diego Caicedo, Gonçalo Almeida, and Vasco Trilla – Low Vertigo (Multikulti)

The Portuguese trio released Low Vertigo all the way back in April, but I couldn’t afford the album—which is unavailable for streaming—until now. Out on the amazing Multikulti label, Low Vertigo deals heavily distorted improvised music. Call it free metal, if you will, I’m in! As such, it joins the ranks of albums like dMu‘s Synaptic Self and Death Drag‘s Shifted as some of my favourite albums.

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Shamin – Fine Gnaw

Do you want flaming hot jams? This is where you can find them. The Benjamin Shannon – Sophie Min drums-and-piano duo is about to release Fine Gnaw, an endlessly enjoyable ride. The influences on this one range from The Dillinger Escape Plan to Vijay Iyer, and it’s not hard to imagine how a mathcore-but-jazz description would be fitting. At over fifty minutes long, the album is very generous, and it bestows upon its listener a stupid grin from start to finish. It’s not out yet, but I want more!

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Drumming Cellist – Abraxas

I already complained about the name for that project, so let’s skip straight to the actual music. On Abraxas, Kristijan Krajnčan’s solo effort, there are two instruments in the spotlight: drums, and cello. Other ones come and go, like harpsichord on track 10, and some vocal performance here and there, whistling on track 2, but those two are at the core of the album; they’re what the project’s named after, after all. I’ve got to say I was impressed by Kristijan’s proficiency and mastery of both instruments. The first complete composition, “Floating Sand (from the Seabed, Our Homeland)”, fully demonstrates the extent of his ability. Energetic and driving, this song features a wide range of techniques of composition and performance. The rest of the album is just full of the same—but different—utterly enjoyable content. A stellar discovery!

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Town Portal – Of Violence (Art as Catharsis)

The delicate interweaving of post-metal and math rock so idiosyncratic of Australian band Town Portal is back in full force on their new effort: Of Violence. It’s no news to anyone that the trio has incredible compositional chops. Their songs sound at times beautiful and brittle and others harsh and empowering. This alchemy is not unbeknownst to others, as similar bands have risen up brewing similar potions, but Town Portal remains master of its craft. Of Violence comes out on the fifth of April.

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Raphael Malfliet Large Ensemble – LE10 18-05 (Ruweh)

Raphael Malfliet‘s newest project involves a large ensemble of musicians in a composition-improvisation superposition. LE10 18-05 is a superb, brilliant, and oftentimes deranging album that takes every opportunity it gets to test the musicians, the instruments, and the listeners. Opening track “Arborescence” is a prime example of this, as it moves apparently freely, without cohesion, haphazardly, but everything here is strictly confined by the score and interplay rules between musicians. I regret waiting so long before buying this one, because it’s such a profound musical experience. This album is truly stunning!

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Ikarus – Mosaismic (Iapetus)

The incredible German modern jazz group Ikarus is about to deliver a new opus with Mosaismic. The band is well-known for their dual scat singers and their general challenge of rhythmic norms and traditions. While previous albums Chronosome and Echo seemed to push forward into new and unexplored territory, Mosaismic seems to be more laid back or, at the very least, much more subtle about it. The album is still filled with odd-time signatures and plenty of polyrhythmic devices, but more focus seems to have been drawn on atmosphere, melody, and timbre. It is only a new reason to love it.

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The Mercury Tree – Spidermilk

Spidermilk is the first album from The Mercury Tree as a full-blown quartet. This experimentation started with the Cryptic Tree EP with Igliashon as a guest, but the result was so mind-blowing that they ended up joining the band altogether! The entirety of Spidermilk is in 17 tones per octave, which lends a radically different sound to their music. At the moment, there’s nothing quite like The Mercury Tree, they are a brand new burgeoning branch of progressive rock.

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Mord’a’stigmata – Dreams of Quiet Places (Pagan)

Mord’a’stigmata—not a name that is easily forgotten—has been a name on the periphery of my radar for years. The Polish group’s brand of bleak metal never captivated me enough to warrant much attention, but on fifth full-length Dreams of Quiet Places they have refined their sound into something impossible to ignore. Both composition and production have taken a substantial step up from 2017’s Hope, with nods to purveyors of blackened sludge like Rorcal and older Altar of Plagues, alongside psychedelic elements reminiscent of Entropia and older A Forest of Stars (or their lesser-known reincarnation, The Water Witch).

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Quantum Trio – Red Fog (Emme Records)

The Netherlands’ Quantum Trio has ditched the dichotomy found on Particles & Waves and coalesced the various aspects of their music together into a new, modern sound. Red Fog is a progressive and bleak heavy jazz album that’s worth your time for sure. It comes out on the 29th.

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Paracelze – Ptérodactyle

The latest arrival of Swiss trio Paracelze is an incredible fusion of noise rock and jazz. All three musicians are multi-instrumentalists on Ptérodactyle, supplementing the formula with electronics, piano, and glockenspiel among others. This adds a lot to their sound, making it very versatile and flexile, bending one way and another as the album progresses. It is quite short, at just over thirty minutes, but it’s a quality time.

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Kouma – Aibohphobia (Dur et doux)

Yes indeed, French label Dur et doux never ceases to impress. After Ultra Zook, let’s take a look at Kouma, a new contender for me, and one that is there to remain. As the album title suggests, Aibohphobia is all about palindromes. This is reflected by the two only tracks, “Aller” and “Retour”, which, together, spell out the French term “aller-retour”, a “round trip”, “there and back again”, “return ticket” for English speakers. Both tracks are exactly 13:37 long and, while I haven’t delved into their composition, I’m ready to bet that it is at least somewhat palindromic in nature. As for their sound, Kouma is an interesting mix of noise rock, polyrhythms, post-rock, droning notes and passages, and the complexity and idiosyncrasy of avant-prog. A terribly good album, out on the 29th!

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Future Machines – Future Machines (math rock, avant-prog, glitch rock)

Here’s a release from an exciting new band taking a bold step forward within the idiom of math rock! This should be right up the alley of anyone hungry for bit-crushed madness and hyperactive rhythmic phrasing run amok! Stuttering, sputtering guitar melds perfectly with off-kilter drumming as the group embraces their weirdness and makes no apologies. A deliberate barely in control quality adds heaps to the intensity of the music and the uncertainty inflicted upon the listener as to where things might go. Disjointed grooves that punch hard and manifest as the irresistible urge to bob one’s head are immediately impactful, standing as a hallmark of the band’s unified approach. In compliment to the erratic rhythms, broken glitch textures are supremely satisfying, and thankfully in no shortage.

I imagine there’s a lot to look forward to from Future Machines, but after checking this release out, it may be a wise move to travel back in time to visit Matthew Fong‘s (guitar) and Chris Pruden‘s (bass synth) prior collaboration with similarly experimental math jazz trio Falcon Punch. Amazing stuff!

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Elder Ones – From Untruth (Northern Spy)

Amirth Kidambi’s avant-garde jazz ensemble Elder Ones prepared a strong sophomore to their 2016 Holy Science. From Untruth departs from the universalist theology of its predecessor and strikes in the heart of today’s issues: political division, class war, colonialism, and disinformation, while still maintaining its core musical aspects: improvisation, experimentation, and the fusion of musical traditions into a new, different entity, with the use of contemporary classical music, free jazz, and classical Indian music, for example. The album is meditative, at times shocking, and quite transcendental throughout. It comes out in late March!

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Nuno Aroso – Esgrima

Being an integral part of many amazing groups—not the least of which being Turbamulta, Portuguese composer and percussionist Nuno Aroso delivers a new crushing blow, in the world of contemporary classical music, with Esgrima. It’s forward-thinking and brilliantly off-putting in many ways, but it manages to maintain the listener’s intellectual interest as well as emotional responses despite being way beyond musical Romanticism. It’s a gorgeous and special album.

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Ultra Zook – L’album (Dur et doux)

With their previous albums, Epuz, Epuzz, and Epuzzz, the French avant-garde madmen Ultra Zook showed great promise, even if some aspects of their music were in need of improvement. I’m glad to say that, with their debut full-length, L’album—or, eponymously, Ultra Zook—most or all the improvements I advocated for have been fulfilled. As a short descriptor, I’d say they are like a more psychedelic Ni, playing music for a kids’ show of the future. I highly recommend grabbing this incredibly good album if you have the chance. It’s coming out on March 22.

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Typical Sisters – Hungry Ghost (jazz, improvisation)

The simple trio of guitar, double bass, and kit drums provides us a very nice taste of modern jazz. One of my beefs with so much semi-composed composed music is the tendency of the improvised sections to become platforms for individual indulgence, but not here. Not by a long shot. This is a collective experience, and this music travels! You might find yourself briefly lulled to sleep with a foggy melody before taking a wrong turn down a sleazy back alley, for instance. The ability the trio possesses to evoke such strong atmospheres and imagery is remarkable. It’s an innate power of jazz (more than any other genre, I think), and it’s in full effect here, making for a nearly cinematic experience. Oh, and did I mention the rhythm section can really kick! I happily recommend to fans of traditional and experimental jazz alike!

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Oli Steidle and the Killing Popes – Ego Pills (Shhpuma)

Shhpuma, a derivative of Clean Feed, continues to solidify its position as a purveyor of awe-striking music. The newest demonstration is Ego Pills, an album by the experimental jazz-rock unit Oli Steidle and the Killing Popes. As you can imagine with the above video, the entire album deals in the psychedelic and the musically abstract, as the aberrant, incongruous compositions show. The entire fifty minutes on disc are vibrant and varied, and offer numerous surprises and rewarding moments. It’s a very notable album.

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John Zorn – The Hermetic Organ, Volume 6: For Edgar Allan Poe (Tzadik)

Label page

John Zorn is a true musical enigma. His latest release is the sixth volume of the Hermetic Organ series, dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe. The two half-hour–long improvisations schools most anyone on organ sounds. I have to admit, not having listened to the previous five volumes of his series, that I was a bit anxious as to what I was to find when listening to this one. Would it be some solemn pastoral work? My limited acquaintance with the instrument trapped me, and so Zorn caught me by utter surprise. I honestly didn’t know the instrument was capable of such sounds, and I don’t know if these improvisations were layered or not, but it is absolutely terrifyingly mind-boggling the number and diversity of sounds that come out at once. I swear I heard a saxophone somewhere, but, if I’m to believe the credits, I have been fooled. Spectacular album!

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Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Ancestral Recall (Ropeadope)

I have to say, Christian has nailed the aesthetics down for his new album, Ancestral Recall. Other than the amazing-looking artwork, the music it contains is just as spiritual, stellar, and quasi-divine. Deeply rooted in African, Latin, Native, and jazz musics, Ancestral Recall is a modern, if not futuristic introspection into the fusion of the genres. Therefore, it’s very rhythmic, but also melodically expressive, and intensely memorable. It’s a bright album that you deserve.

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Joey Molinaro – Tale of the Lovelorn Outlaw

My previous encounter with Joey‘s music was with his Awash album, which was a really interesting mix of hardcore or metal music firmly rooted in folk. The Tale of the Lovelorn Outlaw stays within this realm, but seems slightly less experimental to my ears, given Joey’s cleaner vocal performance in general. It’s truly an amazing spin on modern folk music, and, being a concept EP, there’s a strong sense of continuity throughout, which helps keep all the individual songs together. We need more of this to reinvigorate folk music.

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Splinter Reeds – Hypothetical Islands (New Focus Recordings)

New Focus Recordings continues its support and curation of amazing contemporary classical music with Splinter Reeds‘s Hypothetical Islands, an incredible debut album. With the neck-breaking opener “Length and Line”, the album shows its vivid colours. Complex, multi-layered compositions, requiring extreme precision from the performers, are being displayed here, all penned by a different author. While the aforementioned track was a dizzying assault on the mind, the last on the album, the eponymous “Hypothetical Islands”, is much more atmospheric, almost ambient. Nonetheless, the brain juice keeps flowing, thanks to a myriad of compositional and instrumental techniques, advanced and tastefully arranged. Marvellous album, to say the least!

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Colunia – Zéphyr (Collectif Spatule)

With a vast array of influences—from Indian konnakkol to Balinese gamelan to name only two—the French Colunia quartet, sprouting from the Spatule collective carves its name into my mind for certain! Zéphyr, the entity’s debut effort, highlights the formation’s peculiar instrumental line-up, consisting primarily of harp, saxophone, double bass, and drums. This is not too dissimilar to Green Dome, which was also a blast to listen to. Zéphyr is a highly memorable album that keeps on giving.

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Asymmetric Universe – When Reality Disarticulates

The world is seemingly an inexhaustible well of mind-blowing metal fusion artists, the latest of which on my list are part of the Italian Asymmetric Universe band. The musicianship on display is on par or better than the best in the genre, with a Breweresque bassist, a Pliniish guitarist, and a Garstkan drummer, you’ve certainly got a recipe for success. Their EP is merely three songs long, with an additional introduction that brings the number of tracks to four, but these tracks are all highly potent and incredibly satisfying to listen to. These guys have a bright future ahead of them!

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White Pulse – The Fast and the Furious 9

Despite the album’s name, which makes it sound like a low-effort meme or parody, The Fast and the Furious 9 is a blast! Swiss trio White Pulse has put its best into making this gem of “noise jazz”. The electronics merge harshly with the sax and drums and the guitar more often than not is drenched in a wall of effects. Their compositional—or improvisational?—style is very much like a collage, somewhat akin to another crazy Swiss band: Five Pound Pocket Universe, although the latter dealt more into metal and grindcore. Buy this album for a musically surreal experience!

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Mopcut – Accelerated Frames of Reference (Trost Records)

Mopcut‘s latest is a statement to modern electronic music and what can be achieved if you add just a little touch of jazz into it. Accelerated Frames of Reference is an intense but short full-length. It starts off with a bang on “Fictitious Forces”, but soon enough the noise, atmospheric, free, and experimental aspects of Mopcut’s character shine through and resurface to give us an exquisitely deranging time. Refreshing and disturbing.

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Deathcrush – Megazone (Apollon Records)

I’m not generally big into punk music. However, there’s been a few interesting ones already this year (the other one coming out soon to a mini-review near you). Here, let me write about Deathcrush‘s upcoming Megazone. The album draws as much from alt rock as noise rock as post-rock, and that’s to the entire benefit of their general sound. It’s harsh and electronic, and at the same time perfidiously melodic to the point that some ear worms get stuck in my head—and I hate that feeling—but Megazone is a really good product. Coming out on March 8.

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Rïga – Totem

Rïga is a contemporary electro-classical project centred on percussions by Bastien Jouvin. Totem is considerably shorter than their previous album, Reganèl, but the compositions herein seem to have taken a similarly considerable step up! More engaging and better produced, Totem is atmospheric and rhythmic, and it uses electronic music to create immense textures that became an intrinsic part of the experience. That’s a satisfying little EP to enjoy!

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Serpents of Pakhangba – Serpents of Pakhangba (Vmbrella Records)

Serpents of Pakhangba is the latest creative project of Indian musician Vishal J. Singh, whom you’ll remember mainly for his primal band Amogh Symphony. With Serpents of Pakhangba, Vishal teams up with other high-level musicians to craft a totally different entity. Their sound primarily incorporates folk music from various traditions and an avant-garde take on modern technical metal, all sung in a conlang of Vishal’s own creation. “Invocation” bears its name well, introducing us to their world with an atmospheric drone piece, but it’s on “Thus Sings the Midwife of Planetary Transformation” that the journey really begins. It all starts out in a jazz fusion fashion, but things quickly escalate, and the whole twelve minutes is quite awesome! I’m totally excited to hear more!

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Steph Richards – Take the Neon Lights (Birdwatcher Records)

New York trumpeter Steph Richards will release Take the Neon Lights on March 1 (yes, a very loaded day indeed). Out through Birdwatcher Records, the album is a great feat of experimental jazz showcasing the many mastered techniques of Stephanie, some of which can be heard on the preview track, “Brooklyn Machine”. Somewhere between free and fusion, it’s a brilliant album filled with creativity!

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Patchwork Jazz Orchestra – The Adventures of Mr. Pottercakes (Spark Label)

The London-based seventeen-piece big band Patchwork recently released their debut album, The Adventures of Mr. Pottercakes, via the lovely Spark Label. The compositions here are lush and broad in styles, thanks to the seven composers behind them and the musicianship of the performers in this great jazz orchestra. The songs are at times romantic, at times evocative, impressionist, or abstract. Listening to this is pure pleasure, for its varied and well-groomed influences and stylistic choices. Plus, at over an hour of material, you’ve got quite enough to get your fill!

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Nonlocal Forecast – Bubble Universe! (Hausu Mountain)

Angel Marcloid does not quit. From the experimental vaporwave of Fire-Toolz to the longform atmospherics of Mindspring Memories, along with myriad other boundary-pushing projects, the Chicago artist has uploaded enough complex and challenging auditory and visual material to crash the kind of ancient computer on which it seems appropriate to engage it. Under the new moniker Nonlocal Forecast, Angel quite literally synthesizes some of her biggest influences from the eighties’ and nineties’ prog rock, smooth jazz, and new age scenes using almost entirely digital instrumentation and programming. The result, Bubble Universe!, is an eclectic, multifaceted, eminently listenable collection of ethereal neo-muzak.

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Ni – Pantophobie (Dur et doux)

It is without surprise that you read my words about Ni‘s upcoming release. One of my favourite bands has concocted their next musical onslaught, and it’s truly outstanding. While darker in tones than their latest—Les insurgés de RomillyPantophobie keeps the core of what makes Ni Ni: complex rhythmic ideas—from odd-time metres to multiple polyrhythms—a forward-thinking view of structure and melody, and a certain propensity for harsh sounds. Out on the first of March via Dur et doux, Pantophobie is sure to derail more than one train of thought. If you can’t wait for it, be sure to listen to their last album and their collaborative effort, Piniol.

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Identikit – Mind’s Eye Meteorology

The Atlanta sextet Identikit is looking to release its new album—titled Mind’s Eye Meteorology—on March first. The forty-minute effort showcases the band’s fusion of jazz and progressive rock. As you can hear with this single, “Horizons”, Identikit moves fluidly back and forth between light and dark, soft and harsh, and, in general, conveys a very expressive message. Be sure to keep an eye out for when the album drops!

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Eli Wallace – Barriers (Eschatology Records)

Pianist Eli Wallace is a monster. As already featured on our website for his previous, experimental album, Slideshow Junky I, Eli returns under a completely different shape with Barriers, a single, thirty-seven–minute piano solo track. On this, he’s heard exploring new and different sounds, as well as some advanced compositional techniques—even though it is a complete improvisation—a feat few can achieve. Therefore, Barriers is a fascinating and upsettingly great album!

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Marilyn Mazur – Shamania (Rarenoise Records)

Marilyn Mazur is a long time musician and feminist, having started her first all-female ensemble all the way back in 1978. On Shamnia, she recruited a plethora of musicians (nine) to play, interpret, and perform on a myriad of tracks (sixteen). One of the concepts behind Shamania is to conjure that primal energy, that tribal rhythm, which is successfully conveyed by up to four people on various percussions and drums at the same time. The upper layers of the ensemble—that of the brass, woodwinds, strings, keyboard, and vocals—is lush and highly potent, rightfully conveying their big band sound when the song demands. It’s a stellar album, get ready for it on February 22!

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Hippie Diktat – Gran Sasso (Coax Records)

France’s doom-jazz trio Hippie Diktat already made an impression on me with their previous album, Black Peplum, but it’s with Gran Sasso that I introduce them to you here. Not unlike bands such as Mombu and Mosca violenta, which collaborated on the amazing album Hunting Demons, Hippie Diktat’s music is slow, heavy, and atmospheric. Call it post-metal or instrumental doom, or yet again doom jazz—they all convey part of the message—Gran Sasso is a work quite similar to Ex Eye, featuring Colin Stetson, albeit much slower and oppressive.

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Anna Webber – Clockwise (Pi Recordings)

Anna Webber is a New York-based woodwind player and composer. Clockwise is her latest effort, offering us an interesting, thought-provoking séance. With many rhythmic changes, contrapuntal interchanges, and a modern sense of harmony and melody, Anna Webber has crafted here a fantastic album—her sixth one—performed by a proficient septet in which she also takes part. The album is really brilliant, a must!

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Diarrheal Blast – Diarrheal Blast (Turgid Animal Records)

What I first thought of when hearing a few seconds of Diarrheal Blast‘s self-titled magnum opus, I was instantly reminded of Wozzeck‘s masterpiece—in my opinion—Act IV. While I now see the comparison as unfaithful, as well as the comparison with Lighting Bolt, Diarrheal Blast does have a vaguely similar “free noise-metal” agenda. The clarinet, drums, and “fecalizer” trio will definitely try to damage your eardrums, to your utmost pleasure.

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Wing Walker Orchestra – Hazel (Ears & Eyes)

Out on the 15th, Hazel is the debut release of Drew Williams’s Wing Walker Orchestra. The New York undecet plays lush and vibrant compositions, including the twenty-minute “Hazel” suite, based on the science-fiction graphic novel “Saga”. With some electronic music touches, quirky rhythms, and some compositional idiosyncrasies, Hazel is a wonderful album, and a surprising debut!

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Simon Toldam Trio – Omhu (Ilk Music)

Omhu means “care” in Danish, and, as you can hear on Simon Toldam Trio‘s new album, it’s a well chosen name. The music that welcomes you upon arrival is slow… quiet… thoughtful… careful. It might be one of the most minimalistic efforts in modern jazz that I’ve heard recently, but, just like last year’s Animal Image, it strikes a chord with me, rather powerfully. It’s delightful.

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Dieu – Fore (Bermuda Cruise)

Bermuda Cruise is starting to truly stand out as a label, with important past releases like Moteur!, Gneiss Rock, and Jankomas. With the upcoming release of Fore, by the Dieu trio—on the 15th—it will only make things clearer. The album is a live recording of improvisations, “free rock” if you will. It’s forty minutes long, and it’s at times quite contemplative, like the provided excerpt “Qu’un vent, qu’un vide”, and at times quite eccentric and unleashed. It’s a formidable album!

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Uboa – The Origin of My Depression

Previously known for harsh electronics, Australian artist Uboa comes back with a contemplative, meditative, and beautiful album: The Origin of My Depression. Ambient, droning, and densely atmospheric, it’s a mix of analog, acoustic, and electronic sounds and techniques. The result is utterly entrancing. Unknowable rattles, bells, spoken words, layers of voices quiring, and the occasional bursts of screams make for a touching, poignant, and rending experience. Get.

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Dali Mráz – Level 25

The crowdfunded album of Czech drummer Dalibor Mráz, Level 25, has finally come out—at least for those who contributed to the campaign—after many a delay along the way. The album is centred on the fantastic drum chops of Dali, but moreover highlights his composer capacities. The album was made with twenty musicians in total, and each song tells a story on the fifty-minute effort. Everything is written out in great detail in the booklet, and it offers interesting insights into the creation and performance processes of the album. Level 25 is a real gem, and it’s solid all throughout. Get your hands on it!

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Green Dome – Thinking in Stitches (Case Study Records)

Thinking in Stitches is a beautiful avant-garde masterpiece. The harp-piano-drums trio Green Dome is supplemented by various electronic devices and techniques to craft one of the most unique sounds out there. There’s that sounds quite like the electroacoustic pseudostochastic compositions of Green Dome. The harp is a woefully underexploited instrument, and it shines here above all else, in this formidable context.

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Miho Hazama – Dancer in Nowhere (Sunnyside Records)

Japanese composer Miho Hazama offers us a delightful collection of pieces on her latest album, Dancer in Nowhere. Played by the versatile and labile M Unit collective, here seventeen strong, the big band feeling is unmistakable. Miho’s compositions are modern and fresh, offering many a pleasant surprise, some of which can be heard in the preview track, “Today, Not Today”. In short, if you like what you hear, there is much, much more lying beyond the preview.

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Arcadia Trio – Don’t Call It Justice (Alfamusic)

Leonardo Radicchi’s Arcadia Trio is a newly formed politically inclined jazz group. Leonardo is no newcomer to activist music and actions, but Don’t Call It Justice is the latest output of the Berklee graduate. Each composition is the reflection of a theme or experience, marvellously written and masterfully performed by a host of musicians enhancing the trio formula during crucial moments. Don’t Call It Justice is an astonishing effort.

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Alexander Hawkins – Iron into Wind (Intakt Records)

Iron into Wind is a solo piano effort by London musician Alexander Hawkins. Showcasing Alexander’s maturity and breadth as a composer and performer, the album goes into wildly diverse territories; from the contemplative, to the harsh, to the chaotic, and the oddly ordered. Here, we are offered only two preview tracks, which don’t cover the vast range of feelings heard across the album, but they give you a glimpse of what’s to come.

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Toned – La Fête de Saint Michel

La fête de Saint Michel, out in February, is Toned‘s latest output. The Pennsylvania band deals in improvised music and noise rock, and their most recent effort is a stellar showcase of what they can achieve. The four tracks add up to over thirty-five minutes of uneasy, avant-garde improvisation laced with jazz, rock, and electronic music elements. If you’re looking for something new and wild, this is a good pick!

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William Covert – Music for Synthesizer and Drums (Coup sur coup)

Highly anticipated on my end, William Covert‘s solo album doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. The seven tracks on display are based on keyboard motives, atop which drums are played, half-written, half-improvised. Thanks to the odd metres often found in said tracks, the vibe is very much into progressive rock territory. Music for Synthesizer and Drums is excellent, and it’s quite enjoyable just letting it drone on in your ears.

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Mòs Ensemble – Limbs (Smeraldina-Rima)

From Belgium comes Mòs Ensemble, an experimental jazz septet, led by double bassist Kobe Boon. Featuring two singers and two woodwind players on top of the core jazz combo, which gives full body to the band’s sound and ambitions. On Limbs, Kobe fuses many elements from across the board into one entity, and it’s successful on all fronts. The more tranquil and atmospheric tracks are thick and dense, while the more rocky parts reach climaxes complex and energetic. One good song to preview would be “Kakkerlakje”, for its length and breadth. I’m sure you’ll be sold.

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Mastiff – Plague (APF Records)

Out on the first of February, Mastiff is back with Plague, an utterly earth-shattering album, barely over thirty minutes, but filled to the brim with aggression and heaviness. The sludge-meets-death-meets-grind act doesn’t hold back the slightest, and delivers a dense, atmospheric, and hopeless record. Definitely one to check for the heavy lovers out there.

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João MacDowell – The Seventh Seal (IBOC)

The Seventh Seal is a modern opera by Brazilian composer João MacDowell. Adapted from the Swedish movie by Ingmar Bergman Det sjunde inseglet, it is a two-act piece that clocks in—for this 2018 concert recording—at over two hours and a half. I’m not well-versed in contemporary opera music, but I think it’s a great composition filled with interesting and amazing parts. If an opera can be judged by its climax, then this one is great. Give it some time, and enjoy!

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RSLG Quartet – Steps

RSLG is a Greek avant-garde jazz quartet, purveyor of high-quality sonic explorations. Thanks to structured improvisations and their penchant for contemporary classical music and noise, Steps is a modern masterpiece. The four musicians blend in naturally with each other, and offer us a satisfying glimpse into the chemistry between improvisers.

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The Moon Project – Morphologies (Tone List)

I’ve been expecting this one for quite some time, and I’m glad to say that it fucking slays! This Australian avant-garde quintet uses visual scores as guidance for creating experimental, emotional, and improvised music. Needless to say, the result is for advanced listeners only! Oh, and this albums comes from a program for female-identifying people in experimental music, and I think that is awesome.

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Somn – The All-Devouring (Elusive Sound)

The All-Devouring is the debut album of Saint Petersburg-based atmospheric post-black metal band Somn. In just under forty minutes and four tracks, it lays down the “blackened post-rock” style the band has developed, which is quite convincing, I must say. Think of post-black, but with still more emphasis on the “post” side. The album comes out on the 27th, so be on the lookout for it!

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Ludwig – The Secret Source of Oaths (KV&GR)

Free rock! Yes! I always love to listen to such fantastically conducted—in that case, anarchically so—pieces; especially when they are out of the usual setting for totally improvised music: free jazz. Moreover, the improvisers in Ludwig relied quite heavily on procedural composition. Indeed, while the guitar and bass performances were improvised, the drums and synthesizers have been generated with a MIDI randomizer program, which is a genius and crazy idea! Each track has a different approach to the creation process—all listed in the liner notes—and it’s very, very interesting!

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Key to Abyss – Beautiful Demons [2-disc]

Key to Abyss‘s Beautiful Demons is a free jazz concept double album. If that itself doesn’t pique your interest, you’re a lost cause! While the concept itself is blurry and implicit, the music portraying it is quite exciting. I think the obscurement of the story was on purpose—you know, “here’s the music and make your own story” kind of deal? Finally, it’s a bit unfair to only specify “free jazz”, when the album takes cues from a much broader range of genres and styles, such as rock, noise, and metal. It’s a long album, at almost two hours and twenty, but it’s quite fascinating all the way through!

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海老 (Ebi) / Shrimp (Panurus Productions)

Shrimp—in English or Japanese—is a free jazz/noise/grindcore improvisational entity based in the UK. These tags alone make me drool, and remind me of bands like Sete Star Sept—in which one member plays—and Schreckwürmer. Unsurprisingly, the result is intense and wild, two of my favourite musical adjectives. Anyways, dive in, and enjoy, or not, but try.

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Smogma – Abracasmogma (Arachnidiscs)

Smogma is an experimental project from two members of different groups in Arizona. On their debut album, Abracasmogma, the duo casts prepared guitar and an unidentified sound sculpture, as well as a range of other instruments, into the void, creating an otherworldly experience. You can already go on their Bandcamp page to witness and experience “The Black Smog and the Sinner Lady”, but today I—in conjunction with Arachnidiscs Recordings—bring you the second track: “Free Smog”.

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Nagy Emma Quintet – Set to Face

I failed to expressed how I liked this Hungarian modern jazz group when their debut, Extended Play, came out, but I won’t miss the chance now, with the release of the full-length Set to Face. Singer Nagy Emma’s quintet plays some really interesting and enjoyable compositions, with skilled and tasteful improvisation. It’s a marvellous collection of songs you surely won’t regret listening to!

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Lost Crowns – Every Night Something Happens (Bad Elephant Music)

Lost Crowns is a retro prog band that seemingly aims to recapture the more psychedelic era of the seventies’ progressive rock scene, including bands like Yes, King Crimson, and Gentle Giant. Every Night Something Happens is a successful effort in that regard. The compositions on here are quite modern in their approach and conception, somewhat akin to ELP‘s “Tarkus”, but all with an analog sound.

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Black to Comm – Seven Horses for Seven Kings (Thrill Jockey)

Black to Comm is an intriguing beast. The solo project of Marc Richter treads the line between contemporary classical and experimental electronic music in a way I haven’t heard done before. Seven Horses for Seven Kings is deranging and hard to pin down. The first moments of the album recall, and indeed use classical music instrumentation—whether it be by sampling or live recording—albeit digitally altered, while some later tracks appear as more focused on electronic sounds or other things entirely. The whole hourlong effort is perplexing in many ways, but enjoyable in many more.

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Anne Paceo – Bright Shadows (Laborie Jazz)

French drummer and composer Anne Paceo releaser her latest collection of compositions in late January. Bright Shadows is a marvellous work blending modern jazz, R&B, and pop music into a delectable product. With Ann Shirley and Florent Mateo on vocal duties, the songs are in good care, and indeed the melodies presented are poignant and memorable. Similarly, the saxophone and clarinet, guitar, and keyboards are all just right, in their own way. Finally, the drums evidently serve well the compositions, and often shine through by originality and precision. However, they are not the centrepiece of the album; they are a solid foundation. So, Bright Shadows is a great album; it’s fun, well written, and brilliantly executed.

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New Thread Quartet – Plastic Facts (New Focus Recordings)

Contemporary classical music doesn’t get enough spotlight here (and I vow to change that). Let’s start with New York-based New Thread Quartet, a saxophone tetraphony playing pieces that are, at times, utterly terrifying and powerful; at other times contemplative, meandering, or intriguing. Each track is from a different composer, but they all shine equally on this record.

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MRW – Materia prima

Polish musician Marcin Waszczak has crafted an original entity with his musical moniker MRW. Materia prima is the latest release of this high-output alter ego, and it’s one of the highest quality, in my opinion. Although there are quite a lot of MRW albums out there, only a select few capture this same magic, this lightning in a bottle that Materia prima has. I think the last one of this kind was Paradontoza Band, which was more into psychedelic rock, whereas this newest one branches off into progressive metal.

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Helium Horse Fly – Hollowed

This hasn’t yet hit the stream, but it ought to make waves. Hollowed is the most recent album of the Belgian formation Helium Horse Fly; over five years after their self-titled third album. It starts off quite ominously with “Happiness”: droning synths, ostinato riff, rapid percussions, and haunting vocal melodies are quickly followed by a saxophone solo. It only gets better from here, making it one of the best albums of January, that’s for certain. I’m still not quite sure what to classify it as, but it has traits of progressive metal and experimental rock, but draw your own conclusions.

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Hama – Houmeissa (Sahel Sounds)

I’ve been anticipating this one for quite some time, at least since its first appearance in a release dump in late December. This Nigerian synthwave album thoroughly incorporates the musical experiences of Mahamadou into a cohesive whole, reimagining traditional folkloric songs into a modern-day retrowave aesthetic. It’s a banger.

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Nudo – La última de las burocracias

Nudo is a duo from Buenos Aires playing some really impressive, rhythmically challenging jazz. La última de las burocracias is their debut album and consists of seven tracks exploring the piano and drums duo, but also the use of tuned and un-tuned percussions. It’s a highly energetic and rewarding avant-garde jazz album to listen to, not too far off from another great piano-drums duo called Dialectical Imagination.

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Ted Byrnes, Michael Foster, and Jacob Wick – Token Breeder (Hard Angle)

Ted Byrnes‘s Materialism was an album that grew a lot on me, last year, so I was pretty excited to see Token Breeder, which features him alongside saxophonist Michael Foster and trumpetist Jacob Wick. The album is rife with outstanding improvisations and wild performances from all involved parties. I’m a sucker for percussions, though, so I’m in awe before this instrument in particular, aided by the fact that it’s the one I’m most familiar with playing among the three presented here. Mad album!

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Tracteur – Tracteur

I swear, the French are an endless source of amazing creative music. Tracteur is the latest in line, with their self-titled debut album. They seem to call themselves “world noise”, but, besides the world music instruments and noise rock elements, there’s a strong Zeuhl or avant-prog vibe to their compositions. It’s wild, it’s funny, it’s awesome, it’s free.

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Defacement – Deviant

Talk about assault! Netherlands-based Defacement‘s debut EP is one that beats anything that hears it into a pulp. Deviant is made up of seven obscure and violent blackened death metal tracks; perhaps deathgrind is an adequate descriptor, too. What’s certain is that you’ll get your face skinned and that you’ll probably hear from this band again in the future.

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Swim Team – V

It took a while for me to write about this one. Even though it was released in mid January and I already knew of it, it took its sweet time to sink into me. I was at first charmed by the music, which drove me to listen to it multiple times, but it’s only after a while that it dawned on me how fantastic the album is. Rooted in punk music, Vancouver’s Swim Team goes much beyond the scope of the genre, and into post-punk and experimental rock territories. Some songs are pretty simplistic and resemble pop songs—mostly “Brick”—but on many tracks there is at least one aspect that draws me to a closer listen. Examples range from the creative guitars in “X” or the \(\frac{9}{8}\) theme of “Firefly”.

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Rogue Parade – Stomping Off from Greenwood (Greenleaf Music)

Greg Ward’s Rogue Parade put out a new album, and it’s quite amazing. Stomping Off from Greenwood is a delicate fusion of modern, cinematic, and upbeat jazz. The quintet plays perfectly the compositions that are, in my opinion, no less amazing and rewarding to go through. There’s an energy flowing through the album that feels quite empowering.

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Uswa – Cold Spell

For atmospheric doom, my reference has lately become Soldat Hans‘s Es taut. Uswa‘s debut, Cold Spell, is even more ethereal and light than it, but it’s not a bad thing. Here, the listener is often led by flute and acoustic guitars through a more contemplative state than what doom usually allows for. Although the album is less ambitious than Soldat Hans’s, it’s a remarkable release, and only gets heavy when it is direly needed. This works to the benefit of the music, as the heavy feels tremendous when it finally comes.

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Yvette Young – Piano

Yvette Young released a new album. You won’t be surprised to learn that it’s good, despite her not playing on the instrument most of us know her for: guitar. This piano and violin-based EP doesn’t sound too far off from Yvette’s usual songwriting; I guess you can take a guitar from a woman’s hands, but not her music. Piano is a healthy sized EP, at around twenty-five minutes, and it’s a fantastic one. You know what you’re in for!

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My Wrist – Fresh

My Wrist is back with a follow-up to last year’s Touch Me, which I really liked. I wrote a review for it that apparently touched the musicians involved enough to make an homage and immortalize it in musical form, on the track “Daev Tremblay”. Fresh is just as bewildering and experimental as its predecessor, or perhaps even more. Either way, it’s an astounding journey to go through, so take a deep listen to it!

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Burning Ghosts – American Circus (Orenda Records)

Burning Ghosts are no newcomers to extreme improvisation music. However, their release of a surprise full-length on January first is a welcome addition to the beginning of the year! With an unabashed reference to the state of the United States’ politics, American Circus takes you through three long-form—the longest being the 33-minute “Drowning on the High Ground”, an homage to Ornette Coleman—improvisations mixing free jazz and heavy progressive metal music. The result is wild and liberating, cathartic above everything. It’s a fantastic album to start the year with!

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On January 20 2020, this entry was posted.
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