Sunday, January 08, 2023

Best Of 2022: Electronic

My interest in this genre leans closer to soundscapes that create an imaginary environment or persona rather than the more popular beat-driven expressions. But there are still a few jams to be had here, where songs emerge out of the synth-based constructions. At the top are previously covered releases followed by pocket reviews of other things that caught my ear and demanded repeat listening. Get the flavor of each album in this playlist or below. 

Ben Seretan - Sandhills Music As he proved on 2021's wonderfully immersive Cicada Waves, singer/songwriter/guitarist Seretan also has a gift for putting a structure around the sounds of nature by combining them with electronics. Ambient music, then, and worthy of the legacy of Brian Eno's Ambient 4: On Land. Whether viewed as landscapes in sound or travels in the mind, these pieces, recorded both in Sanford, NC and Troy, NY, have a way of redefining the space around you.

Nick Storring - Music from W​é​i 成为 Made up of layers of piano sounds (both from an old upright and a computer-controlled Yamaha Disklavier), Storring's latest album is marvelously evocative. Nearly symphonic in scope, each emotionally-driven track leads to the next with a steady inevitability. The level of invention in Storring's approach is quietly astonishing, with plucking, preparations, E-bow, and other techniques deployed with remarkable assurance - never more so than in movement VI, when things really take off! The Chinese characters in the title relate to the verb "to become" so maybe that's a clue to the story being told, but any interpretation that meshes with your life is valid and may change over time. Either way, it's an album that has continued to reveal itself over many listens - compelling stuff, indeed. 

Amanda Berlind - Mousemilk As on her delightful debut, 2021's Green Cone, this EP often combines hazy atmospherics with off-kilter rhythms, for an experience not unlike standing between rooms playing different radios - but it works. The longest track, Wand, is 13 languorous minutes of piano, guitar, wordless vocals, and reverb, perfect for staring at the rain or the inside of your eyelids. While this is only available on streaming services (including YouTube) it seems it may be forthcoming as a cassette, which would be the perfect medium for these rich but low-fi audio collages. Berlind is also a witty and wonderful visual artist so be sure to keep up with her on Instagram.

Sophie Birch - Holotropica There is a lush, almost humid, enveloping quality to Birch's work here, created with electronics and occasional sax, flute, and harp, that connects it to those "rainforest" cassettes you used to find in crunchy stores in the 70s. But that reference does little to reveal how musically astute Birch is as a composer and sonic sculptor. Birch, who hails from Denmark, also collaborated with Polish vocalist Antonina Nowacka on Languouria, which has a bit more forward motion than Holotropica on some tracks and features the voice as another instrument, sometimes soothing, sometimes startling, always wordless and expressive.

Various Artists - A New Age For New Age, Vol. 5 Launched in 2019, this series has become a durable fixture on the electronic scene, with each volume having something to offer. Expanding their brief, they collaborated with the University of Michigan's Modern Percussion Lab to have students create the eight tracks featured here. From Paul Puleo's Non-Frontation, which opens the album with Harry Partch-like resonating percussion, to the space-station corridors of Chris Sies' Radiant Streams, the collection is compelling and fresh throughout - yet another new age for new age!

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Emile Mosseri - I Could Be Your Dog/I Could Be Your Moon I seem to have lost track of Smith since I noted the "rich and rewarding" experience of her album, The Kid, in 2017. But this collaboration with Emile Mosseri, a composer known for soundtracks for such excellent movies as Kajillionaire and Minari, caught my attention quickly. A two-part collection that feels like a story, the first few songs seem to transit us gently through the clouds, as if on a butterfly’s back, and when we finally touch down during the sun-kissed groove of Shim Sham, it’s a marvelous sensation. Smith's latest solo album, Let's Turn It Into Sound, also has a sense of narrative, if in a more oblique way. A venture into near hyper-pop, it's full bright textures and sunny moods. Dazzling and entertaining in equal measure.

Yeule - Glitch Princess Opening with a haunting and halting spoken word piece that seems to come over a fraying ethernet cable, this remarkably assured debut introduces us to Nat Ćmiel, a creature of the internet who is looking for love, acceptance, and community. Or is Yuele the creation? In their bio,  Ćmiel calls Yeule "a portal or riff" created to "communicate their art to the outside world..." The mind-bending conceptual underpinning only adds a kick to the album. The songs are indeed glitchy, and very artfully so, conveying nuanced emotions and fractured melodies. And when they go full pop on Bites On My Neck, it's wonderfully celebratory and conjures a vision of Bowie's Earthling-era self dancing in the wings. It's an immersive album, like a trip to the metaverse without a headset, and the digital and streaming versions end with a nearly five-hour bath of dreamy ambiance, the perfect way to process everything that's come before. 

Claire Rousay - Everything Perfect Is Already Here Rousay is prolific enough that it almost seems as if the steady flow of albums and EPs may be acting as some sort of diary for her. There certainly is a lived-in quality to the two 15-minute pieces that make up this album, which not so much creates an environment but comes from one, and a Cageian dwelling at that. It feels like entering a sprawling apartment filled with musicians, but as pure consciousness, allowing you to hear all sound as music and all music as sound, without making any noises of your own. Joined by Alex Cunningham (violin), Mari Maurice (electronics, violin), Marilu Donovan (harp), and Theodore Cale Schafer (piano), Rousay maps out a place of memories you never had or haven't had yet. Captivating, witty, and utterly unique.

Dawn Richard and Spencer Zahn - Pigments As much as I wanted to love 2021's Second Line, Richard's sixth album since making her name as a member of Danity Kane, the intrigue created by her trajectory from pop star to indie artist was not enough to counter the frequent nods to convention on the record. But there was the kernel of something that made me keep trying, an effort that was finally rewarded by this spacious, drifting collaboration with Zahn. While Zahn's bass, vibes, and keyboards underpin everything, the mix also includes guitar, strings, sax and flute, with the clarinets and bass clarinets of Stuart Bogie and Doug Wieselman are nearly as prominent as Richard's strong yet diaphanous vocals, creating a blend of jazz, chamber, and electronic musics. Zahn has also been busy on his own and I'm looking forward to delving into his solo work, including Pale Horizon, a delicate series of pieces for bass and piano with some of Vince Guaraldi's wistfulness, which came out in May 2022.

Snowdrops - Missing Island Featuring Christine Ott on Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument, harmonium, and piano, Mathieu Gabry on piano and electronics, and Anne-Irène Kempf on viola, this album continues the marvelous thread from 2020's Volutes more so than the darker and occasionally explosive Inner Fires from last year. Over 41 minutes, the players build up velvety layers of sound, creating a space for reflection just structured enough to avoid collapsing under its own weight. I note that this was recorded in 2020 - what more wonders does their seemingly bottomless archive hold? I can't wait to find out!

Finneas O'Connell - The Fallout OST From his work with his sister, Billie Eilish, you could guess that O'Connell understands how to create drama and emotion out of minimal gestures, which he does throughout this elegantly melancholy score for the 2021 film about the aftermath of a school shooting. With treated piano leading the way, you can hear echoes of the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson, which is not bad company to be in on your first outing as a soundtrack composer. There are also a few sweetly hymn-like songs sung by Maisy Stella with and without her sister Lennon. While his own pop music is hamstrung by his all-too-obvious lyrics and all-too-anthemic choruses, this would seem to be a worthy direction for him when he's not producing the next blockbuster for Eilish. 

Transport yourself further into these realms in this archive playlist and keep up with 2023's excursions here.

No comments:

Post a Comment