Wang Lu - An Atlas Of Time After 2018's stunning Urban Inventory, I knew to expect even greater things from this composer and this album exceeds those imaginings in every way. The title piece is a five-movement spectacular, incorporating orchestrations that Bartok would envy alongside electronics and prerecorded material for collage-like effects that will have your head spinning in the best way. It's astonishing in its concision and power and the performance by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project with Gil Rose conducting is unlikely to be equalled - but that doesn't mean I don't think others should try, and often, in concert halls across the globe. The album also includes Ryan And Dan, a duet for saxophone (Ryan Muncy) and guitar (Dan Lippel) that manages to combine post-punk, free jazz, art rock, and modernism in a mesmerizing seven minutes, Double Trance for string quartet, played by Momenta Quartet and showing mastery of the medium, Unbreathable Colors, a sparkling and off-kilter piece for solo violin (Miranda Cuckson), and Siren Song, which puts more of her orchestral artistry on display. Fearless, fun, fascinating - and emotionally compelling - the world of Wang Lu is one of my favorite destinations. Plot a course ASAP.
Tristan Perich - Drift Multiply In 2018, I attended the world premiere of this majestic piece for 50 violins and one-bit electronics at the Cathedral of St. John The Divine. It was glorious and I ended my review with these thoughts: "While there is certainly an element of performance or installation art, the whole thing was deeply musical and I hope that logistics don’t get in the way of future performances. There was a video crew and likely audio recording being done as well so I would keep an eye on the Red Bull website to see if they make it available for you to experience at home. Drift Multiply is a triumph of imagination and execution that may just give your living room, or wherever you listen, a touch of the divine." And now we have this recording, made in Amsterdam last year, to bear out my statement. Listen and let it bathe you in sound.
Tracks from these albums and many others can be found on my Of Note In 2020 (Classical) playlist.
S.G. Goodman - Old Time Feeling I'm not sure if this debut album was long in the making, but Goodman's voice rips out of the speakers with a captivating impatience, even on the ballads. The production by Jim James foregrounds her remarkable clarion call, which feels drenched in her Kentucky roots, surrounding it with tube-fired guitar, drums, and the simplest of bass lines. The songs are crafted from a deep well of Americana, with country, blues, and folk blended in such a way that the seams are invisible. As the title indicates, Goodman must be an old soul - one listen and she's also an old friend.
Jeffrey Silverstein - You Become The Mountain Pedal-steel infused minimalist mysticism here, with Silverstein your gentle guru. A song title like Cosmic Scene may not sound promising, but such is Silverstein's sincerity that he gets away with it and leaves you wanting more. I put this on and I'm instantly walking in the woods, after rain, smelling leaves and hearing water's gentle movements. It's a trip, alright.
Melody Fields - Broken Horse In 2018, I called this band "Swedish psychonauts who seem to travel through space and time with equal ease," when reviewing their debut album. These four new songs find them in an almost singleminded pursuit of draggy sparkle and shimmer, hitting the mark every time.
Boogarins - Levitation Sessions With the longest track clocking in at under seven minutes, you know this is going to be a different experience than their 2017 epic of the stage, Desvio Onirico, but these are different times. It's no less excellent, however, and finds them blazing through a career-spanning set of songs from their first four albums and Manchaca Vol. 1, their marvelous odd'n'sods collection that also came out this year. Platinum-sellers in their native Brazil, Boogarins will always be on my hit parade!
Tracks from these and many others can be found on my Of Note In 2020 (Rock, Folk, Etc.) playlist.
Vibration Black Finger - Can't You See What I'm Trying To Say Percussionist and keyboard player Lascelle Gordon has come a long way since 1985, when he was a founding member of the Brand New Heavies, a group which always struck me as superficial. But everything here is 100% REAL, whether in abstract explorations like the title track or the furious groove Acting for Liberation, Pt. 1, which seems to incise itself on your mind and body more deeply with each passing moment of its expansive 10-minute length. Surely one of the most authentic progeny of the spiritual jazz movement, VBF are not fooling around.
A track from this album and many others can be found on my Of Note In 2020 (Jazz, Latin & Global) playlist.
Quakers - II - The Next Wave When I included the debut from this hip hop collective in my list of the 100 greatest albums of the 2010's earlier this year, I was fully convinced it was a one-off. I was even growing a little nostalgic, remembering how it introduced me to both Jonwayne and Guilty Simpson, both of whom I went on to interview, but still feeling a bit stung by its lack of seismic impact. Eight years later they are back and it's as if no time as passed. Eclectic beats, varied rappers, including Jonwayne and Guilty Simpson, and just as much fun. Also a blast is Supa-K: Heavy Tremors, their "beat tape" - 50 tracks in 49 minutes - which had my wife asking, "Is this J Dilla?" Not quite, but it certainly hits that spot very sweetly. Welcome back, Quakers, long may you rock my world.
Tracks from these albums and many others can be found on my Of Note In 2020 (Hip Hop, R&B, & Reggae) Playlist.
Elsa Hewitt - Ghostcats This EP is an extra fuzzy excursion from Hewitt, and all the more charming in its graceful electronic distortions. Hewitt's world enters the physical realm with her handmade cassettes and this one was very special - I celebrated it in this unboxing video - but a talisman is not required for the magic to happen. All you need do is push play.
A track from this album and many others can be found on my Of Note In 2020 (Electronic) playlist.