Another year with young kids (ages 3-years-old and 10-months-old) and my backlog of albums-to-listen-to continues to grow exponentially. I feel so far behind and yet I would venture to guess that I still listen to more new music than the average listener. Here’s a handful of albums that grabbed my attention this past year.
Children of Zeus – Balance
Neo-soul/R&B/UK Hip-Hop duo Children of Zeus have crafted a dark and twinkling collection of songs whose smoothness belies the neuroses/struggles lurking in the lyrics.
Dawuna – Glass Lit Dream
This album feels extremely intimate. It feels as though you have been invited to listen to a whispered reading of a diary, accompanied by the sounds in the creator’s brain — alt-R&B rubbing up against clicks and pops of random thoughts shifting in the overhead compartments.
Magda Drozd – 18 Floors
As a vocalist, Magda Drozd has a very unadorned instrument. Accurate in pitch but not overly expressive, no vibrato, no improvisation, and yet it is highly effective as part of her sound world. Her production style is dense and melancholy, with more than a few nods to Coil (and related groups like ELpH and Black Light District).
Joy Orbison – still slipping vol. 1
UK bass music variants that range from House to Garage to Grime, and even some Electro in the vein of Amber-era Autechre. Always rhythmically interesting, and sonically slightly different from the crowd. I am not certain but it may have something to do with a lot of room reverbs that place sounds in spaces that are familiar to us as humans yet unfamiliar in the context of usually larger-than-life dance music.
Lady Blackbird – Black Acid Soul
A voice and a vibe out-of-time. Echoes of Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin, and Roberta Flack, but avoiding nostalgic homage or mere imitation. To my delight, she includes a straightforward cover of one of my all-time favorite Sam Cooke records, “Lost and Looking.”
Penelope Trappes – Penelope Three
Falling somewhere between slow-motion alt-country indie-rock and sexy dark Massive Attack-style trip hop, these songs use space, light, and darkness, combined with patience, in very effective arrangements.
Vanishing Twin – Ookii Gekkou
Bright and airy vamps, plenty of ride cymbal, slightly weird sensibilities, reminds me a little of Stereolab sometimes, mellow but odd. Recommended.
R.I.P., Alvin Lucier
Rest in peace, Alvin Lucier. Of all my teachers, he had the most profound effect on my thinking and my listening. He would greet me jovially as “Mr. Cho!” and treat me with respect and sincerity even though I was just a young undergrad know-nothing. It was an honor to be connected to you in some small way.