In December of last year I took a look at the review queue and saw that it was past 1100 tracks and decided to go through it closely with a view to clearing out some that wasn’t really to my takes and to try as best to clear the ones I liked prior to the onslaught of 2020. I drafted twenty -two posts with multiple releases and managed to get just over half of them done before the reality of covering this years music came true. As we have just passed the midway point of January and the queue sits at 321 tracks, I have to result to micro reviews or just abandon them and I would much rather get these releases out to peoples attention than just ignore them.
After The Last Morning” Soundtrack and “Fragments” , Sylvain Texier publishes his new instrumental project. With ‘Lake ‘, whose the Rennes had the stage premiere at the opening of the festival Les Embellies, in March 2018, Sylvain Texier finds this purely instrumental style in which he excels. In the deep forest of a meditative landscape is discovered the Refuge, lyrical introduction – which gives its name to the album. A few notes at the turn of a steep and misty path, which are extended by tiny Dreams… A dishevelled race (Holocene) or a simple Conversation of a piano, what enhances the nonchalant movement of the string trio? Silhouettes half erased in a glowing (Morning), going into the unknown for a new journey in weightlessness (Interlude), or eternal return of repeated chords (The Leftovers) in a world that sparkles (Epilogue) under the ice?
Sylvain Texier’s release of early 2019 is an album that has contrsating styles and recordings. Some pieces are of the more minimalist modern classical style, while others are grand in nature. Some pieces are cloaked, while other are vibrant. The multi instrumentalist Texier (who handles the piano, bass, beat programming and textures) manages to mix things up between more classic styles and more contemporary electronics. The idea of electronics infused into Modern Classical is one that certainly found it’s calling in the last decade and when it is done good, like in the way that Texier exhibits on the preceding single “Holocene” then it is a pleasure to listen to. The string section of Vincent Dormieu, Paul Rouger and David Harlé help elevate the music even further to higher states as is evident on the other preceding track “The Leftovers”. Whichever way you look at it, from a pure piano, or electronic or orchestral piece, the music on “Refuge” is that will provide most listeners of these styles great enjoyment.
“Refuge” is available on CD and Digital.
“Since the release of his last studio record “Illume” in 2015, Minnesota-based composer Jacob Pavek filled the next few years fulfilling various milestones in his career. In 2016 he opened for Jóhann Jóhannsson, an idol of his, and created an Emmy-Nominated Soundtrack to the documentary “Hello Montevideo”–all the while writing compositions that make up his Junior 2019 release,” NOME”. Rather than intentionally writing about specific subject matter, NOME is primarily Pavek reacting to certain feelings and moments in his life listening sub-consciously, whether it be rooted in a dream (2040), missing a loved one (True North) or the tragic social events of today’s age (Pulse). However, the album title “NOME” itself is meant for pure aesthetics rather than convey any subject matter directly. Here, the listener is free from bias and given room to create their own world from it.”
Straight from the get-go Pavek lets you know you will feel the music. With the opener “2040” you are brought into a sound world that is not like some piano based albums where there is a tentativeness and gentleness. Instead you feel like Pavek is in the room right next you, such is the intensity in the playing and the volume. Pavek feels like a physical player who really puts his all into his playing with it sometimes bordering on a more vibrant approach to the keys resulting in an insistent and passionate sound. That is not to say that he doesn’t show restraint or can only colour his music in one way as evident with the time and care put into the delivery of “Crocus” which utilises the violinist Joshua Misner to great effect in creating a supporting ambience.
The Modern Classical style that is piano led is hard not to classify as cinematic. This is not really a laziness on the writer that cover the music, it’s because the nature of the music suits the film medium so well. In reality you cannot grow up without subconsciously absorbing this style of music for years. Pavek’s pieces are no exceptions with the feeling of a strong narrative that is part of the music’s fabric. A piece like “Love/Marriage” is the perfect sort of example of this with it’s various movements taking the listener through a story. This is the kind of release I wish I had gotten onto sooner as it is one which has a beautiful sound (with help from the highly regarded master Francesco Donadella) and there is a consistency that results in an album that is consistently engaging and rewarding.
“Nome” is available on LP (released by Unperceived Records) and Digital and is one of the best from last year.
“Nico Casal has scored many films including the Oscar winner ‘Stutterer’ and Netflix’s ‘Sunday’s Illness’, for which he picked up a Spanish Golden Globe (Ferroz Prermieros) nomination for Best Score, but now he is ready to share his own personal soundtrack in debut album ‘Alone’.
“I was having a really bad moment, and that day was the first in my life where I took a notebook and started to write some ideas, ‘how do I feel today’, ‘how can I express that with the piano’,” Casal recalls. He sat down and began to play a structured improvisation on a second-hand upright piano, recording into his laptop. It was only on this quiet Sunday recording music alone, which he’d never thought would be heard by anyone else, that suddenly liberated him.
Fast forward two years and those same compositions are now ready for release in the debut album Alone. The strings and piano were re-recorded but everything else has stayed the same including the parts played on his toy organ bought from his local charity shop. All seven tracks are connected, they belong to the same form, to the same “story”, but all clearly revealing an individual emotion felt that day as described in the song titles.”
Composed in a single day and inspired by a period of time in his life that caused great anguish, stress and grief, “Alone” is another addition to the canon of music inspired by life experiences and emotions. This his debut album comes after Oscar (and other award) successes of the short film “Stutterer” that he scored. With titles like “Ready To Talk”, “I’m Not Angry Yet”, “It’s Fine, But It Hurts” Casal is clearly wearing his heart on his sleeve. The latter track is dripping with emotion, probably more so that the pieces before it. In musical terms there is an almost insistent and defiant feel to the piece, much like in real life when people constantly ask how you are and the annoyance grows inside you, this is how it feels musically.
The second half of the record is more melancholic and inward looking. Starting with “Things I Wasn’t Brave Enough To Say” with it’s stop start rhythms/thoughts through to the fragile minimalism of “Ok, I’m Lost” and “Still Alone”. It’s mainly on “I Don’t Want This To End” and a short part towards the end of “Still Alone” that Casal reverts to more emotive playing.
“Alone” is available on The Point of Departure Recording Company on CD, LP and Digital.
Ordering details can be found here.
“Philip Daniel Zach is a composer, pianist, and teacher from Lincoln, Nebraska. Zach did his graduate work at the UMKC Conservatory in Piano Performance and his undergraduate studies at Hastings College, where he earned a Bachelor’s in Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy.
“Between Us” consists of 12 compositions (in 2 chapters) originally recorded/written on solo piano with strings/synths added later by Nashville-based violinist/producer Shawn Williams. Contrary to his overtly extroverted narrative compositions from his first two album (recorded on grand piano) this album consists of intimate melodic ideas expanded upon by improvisation. Recorded in one take, this album was purposely not “planned” and has no real musical formal structure, rather simple ideas are expanded upon determined by the composer’s feelings on that one specific night of the recording.”
Sometimes when you read the word improvised it can lead you to think of music that is unplanned, rambling or unedited. You worry about a distillation of ideas that is lost because of the the music not being pre-written and refined. Thankfully this is not the case with Philip Daniel, who by having the qualifications listed above knows his way around the instrument and also about how to compose on the run. Recorded with and inspired by a 100 year old Steinway recording with felt, the music due to the nature of the felt has a misty, dreamy feel that is embedded with nostalgia and innocence. The addition of Shawn Williams to the pieces results in a different feel added. Not totally sounding like a modern classical style, in a way it feels closer to the works of Aaron Martin with a folk-ish tinge to the strings. Williams contributions are also subtle enough that they compliment rather than complete with Daniel’s piano, although on “Minor Ventures” as the piece moves through the movements they work in tandem together nicely.
The nature of the music is quiet and lends to itself a similar listener technique. While some music has a narrative feel (like the above featured above), music like that on “Between Us Ch. 1” has more of an open feeling that results in it not directing the listener, instead it opens itself up to the interpretation of each listener.
“Bewteen Us Ch. 1” is available Digitally. You can buy the album here.
On a Side note Philip Daniel and the above reviewed Jacob Pavek have a new project together called BLOMMA who will have a self titled Digital album out on Moderna Records on February 28.
“In 2018 we recorded piano versions of our old songs every week for a year. We hope they can make a good soundtrack for your everyday life – riding a bike to the library, tending to houseplants, studying a foreign language or browsing through books in a museum gift shop. We’d love to hear when you like to listen to them.”
How does one review a fifty – two track double album of piano pieces clocking in at around one hundred and thirty seven minutes? You simply can’t take all the pieces into consideration, but thanks to Shawn James Seymour aka Lullatone the music is varied throughout the album. Seymour who creates music for brands has an expressive feel to his music that sees him cross various styles (just check out material from his various other releases for the different styles and feels that he incorporates). There is a strong whimsical, innocent and playful feel to his music that nicely mixes in Japanese influences with an overall (and I hope I am not insulting him when I say) cute package. The music on “Music For Museum Gift Shops” is a re-imagining of his back catalogue via piano and offers a different sort of feel. Before I went and compared say “Checking Things Off A To-Do List Early in The Morning” with it’s original version on 2011’s “Soundtrack For Every Day Adventures”, knew just what the context of the piece was in and how it would sound as it shares that whimsy feel of the original.
There is lo-fi sound to the recordings which are largely acoustic and organic and are probably more suited to the existing Lullatone listeners who want to hear their favourites versioned. Personally it made me seek out the originals (which I recommend you do) as I am a bit of a sucker for that sort of style of innocence. That said the pieces on the album show how well that Seymour can rework his own material into a different style while still retaining his essence. “Music For Museum Gift Shops” is available on Double Cd and Digital.
“A Spot on the Hill’s 2018 debut album, The Tenth Wave, marked Cook’s first musical release in 18 years and was warmly received. Now A Spot on the Hill returns with A Need that Runs Too Deep, which finds Cook further developing the music his listeners have described as “meditative,” “unpretentious” and “hauntingly beautiful.” While retaining his debut’s sense of beauty and introspection, A Need that Runs Too Deep is a fuller, more confident exploration of Cook’s vision. Building from a foundation of piano and violin, the album features layers of instrumentation including electric bass and guitar, acoustic guitar, digital synths and more.
From the floating tranquillity of “Last night, I flew over green fields” to the bass-driven “When all things were possible,” A Need that Runs Too Deep is an enchanting album that sits at the intersection of several genres, setting a musical path that is both welcoming in its reference points and singular in its’s approach.”
Dan Cook returns with his second release under his A Spot On The Hill moniker. The years difference between the first and second albums have shown a definite increase in the quality of his music (although, If I am being truthful, the cover art lets it down a bit). Seeing as Cook has a long history in bands and that it appears he has spent the ten months between releases listening and taking notes, the resulting album is one which sounds like a distillation of the last two decades of activity and listening. More Post Rock and acoustic orientated than before as evident on “When All Things Are Possible” or “Go Look At The Moon”, the album benefits from Cook’s multi-instrumental talents that make it easy for him to add layers to his pieces with instruments such as bass, guitars and synths.
Such is the nature of the influences and stylistic changes you can’t slap a genre on the whole album as it is varied, but you can include Modern Classical, Post Rock, Acoustic, Alt Folk and Drone in there. Cook smartly starts the album with the attention grabbing “Last Night I Flew Over Green Fields” with it’s slow piano and slightly menacing/intriguing synth sounds, and then proceeds to take you into his various sound worlds. I am curious as to what album number three will sound like.
“A Need That Runs Deep” is a Pay What You Want Digital release.
Slowburner is the solo project of Élvio Rodrigues, composer and producer from Madeira island, now based in Lisbon, Portugal. Since 2015 he has released a couple of singles and his debut EP – ‘Before I return to dust’ [March 2017]. The music is mainly instrumental, combining ambient soundscapes with piano and field recordings, not too far away from the
likes of modern classical composers like Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds. At the beginning of 2018, during a 10 week period, Élvio challenged himself to finish composing one piano-based song per week, and play it live on Instagram every Sunday morning. Those 10 songs were then re-recorded during 2018 and are now being released on June 7th 2019, in both CD and digital formats, as a collection of songs named ‘Sunday Mornings Are For Piano’. The premise of the project was to spontaneously create new music and share it with the world, as raw and as soon as possible. The whole process was the journey of an artist accepting his own compositions as they came into life. Those weeks would not have been the same without these songs, as much as these songs would not have been the same without those weeks.”
If you haven’t worked out a theme of this review post by now, then there is no hope. Modern Classical piano albums are all over the underground even though the major music shops seem to only stock those composers long time passed or those releases with the Decca or Deutsche Grammophon logo’s on them. The underground labels and artists are those that keep the music alive and like their mainstream pop equivalents only a few manage to crack through onto bigger labels like those aforementioned or the affiliated Mercury KX. That is why it is important to have people live all over the world like Élvio Rodrigues who stride out on their own.
“Sunday Mornings Are For Piano” (which appears to be his first album after an EP) “Before I Return To Dust” and a handful of singles. What it shows is when an artist sets off on a journey with an idea in mind and a deadline, just what they can create. Because of the ten week time limit, Rodrigues afforded himself with space and an objective. The resulting ten tracks offers differences which can be both a positive and a negative. If the time was reduced then the scope of the album would have been similarly reduced. Not totally rooted in the Modern Classical style, Rodrigues offers listeners a variety of pieces on the piano that have different tones and feelings. The more ambient “One For All, All For One” sits along the fragile and minimal “Point Of No Return”, while the vibrant “Sunday Joy” (I am curious if the track listing is the order that they were created and this is a reaction to the end of the process) is different to the filmic “Unfortunately” I mentioned before about the negatives in difference. This can only come if your approach to the album focuses on specific tracks. Like if more ambience was your thing, then you would have hoped for more pieces that were cut from the same cloth as “One For All, All For One”.
What the album does show is a varied composer with different approaches and influences at his disposal. “Sunday Morning Is For Piano” is available on Cd and Digital.
“This album is a complete rework of my debut album “By The Woods” (Released December 14th , 2018 by Sonder House) and the final chapter of my first music project By The Woods. First, there was the original album, then the Odds and Ends and now, finally the reworks. The original works were composed for solo piano. In the six months since the original album and the follow up EP has been out, it has garnered nearly 1 million streams and reached the top selling charts in respective categories on Bandcamp. As I mentioned this has been my first music project as a three part story, finally capped by this collaborative effort. The reworks album features 16 new tracks from 18 different artists with each of their own unique takes on the original compositions. A great compilation of artists mixing ambient textures, electronics and their own unique instrumentation and style to work on a single project. I feel very fortunate everyone hopped on board and made something great.”
It is quite difficult to write about a remix album when you are not familiar with the original source material. The original “By The Woods” came out on New York label / studio Sonder House in December of 2018 with this remix album following six months later. I had a brief listen to tracks from the original album and it has a real intimate, naked and raw sound with the sounds of the instrument almost as strong as the piano chords themselves. The remixes themselves are true to themselves in that it’s not a case of adding something to the tracks. These remixes sound as if the original pieces are starting points to the remixers and they have gone and created new pieces. For the most part the remixes fall under the electronic umbrella. Some have minimal piano parts, using the originals in the form of colours to the remixes , for example “A Sad Song For Later (Timothy G Taylor Rework)”, while others like “Here (Jesse Brown Rework)” are fairly faithful to the originals. Then there is Sophie Marks who completely changes “Reflect” into ethereal dream pop with angelic layered vocals.
The album sort of feels more like it belongs to the remixers more than it does Hayes. There was an intimacy to the pieces of the original album that in a way have been lost in translation. It is like the pieces are part of the fabric of the remixes or are reconstructed with different instrumentation. Some of the remixes are very enjoyable, but as a whole it feels less of a John Hayes album and belongs more to others. If you were to receive it without Hayes’ name it probably be looked at in a different light, but I feel something is missing.
“By The Woods (Reworks)” is available Digitally.
“Traveler is the brainchild of Cameron Fitzpatrick, an American musician, composer, and producer from North Carolina. As a musical project, it embodies the spirit of exploration, indulging in both the quiet introspection and swelling excitement that comes from seeing the wonders of the world, natural and man-made.
Cameron Fitzpatrick has been active in the music scene from a young age, starting in his early teens. His roots are classical, including piano, violin, and classical vocal training, all of which began when he was a young boy. He began writing in several progressive rock bands, performing all along the eastern United States coast. In Traveler, he is returning to his classical influences while maintaining his progressive desire for experimentation and incorporating vintage and modern synthesizers, percussion, and soundscapes. He believes deeply in the power of collaboration, and works with other musicians, filmmakers, and artists to make Traveler a possibility.
What makes artists stand out are points of difference which can be as simple as the recording styles or their influences. Artists come from all different scenes , after all Olafur Arnalds came from a Hardcore Punk background. Cameron Fitzpatrick aka Traveler CS has a classical background that has been obviously influenced by other forms of music on his journey which is evident as he adds different sounds into the melting pot of music. The track and early single “Reprisal” sits firmly within the modern classical sphere, but the other single “SuspendRelease” comes from more of a contemporary meets retro and slightly experimental feel. Further explorations occur on”Threshold”, “The Infinity Of Creation” or “A Storm Below Zion” with their prog synth heaviness, but I find the music works better for me when it is more focused on a singular style. This switch up offers Fitzpatrick his point of difference to other artists within the same genre and may suit those more inclined towards these styles, but for me I prefer when the music is more like “The North Rim” or title track as those pieces speak to me more.
“Janus” is available Digitally.
“‘Thresholds’ is the 6th studio album from acclaimed artists Saso and marks a change in direction with purely instrumental compositions using orchestration, piano and electronics in collaboration with pianist Kevin Corcoran.
The inspiration for ‘Thresholds’ comes from the passing of Brian Lawler, father of Jim (who is one half of Saso). A musician and composer in his own right, songs from Brian’s last album (produced by Ben Rawlins) were played at his funeral in Dec 2017. In the months following the funeral, Jim and Ben chatted about creating music compositions that would reflect the cycle of life and the journey to death. They decided to go back to basics and record a purely instrumental album using strings and piano to convey emotion.
Saso invited musician and arranger Kevin Corcoran to collaborate and help with string arrangements. Kevin had previously worked with Saso on their last album ‘Mysterium’ in 2016. Kevin brought a new colour of sound and the music evolved into a joint venture of reflection and expression.
Saso is the duo of Jim Lawler (Composer / Multi Instrumentalist) and Ben Rawlins (Producer / Recording Engineer) formed in Ireland in 2000. The have released six albums and appeared on many compilations as well as documentaries and television shows. They have had Talk Talk name dropped in their sound which for me, is a reflection of their minimalism and use of space. On this particular album they have teamed up with Kevin Corcoran, a classically trained pianist and composer which the duo feel allows him to add to the expansive and colourful sound world that the duo create. There is a rich spacious, vibrant, yet delicate feel to the music on “Thresholds”. With track titles that a goth band would be envious of (“Origins”, “Covenant”, “Invocation”) the album as mentioned above centres around the death of Jim’s father (himself a fellow musician) and the concept of life and death.
Musically what the trio have created an album that works as a whole with the pieces nicely sitting side by side. There is a hushed reverence to the music with a gentleness and a depth of sound to the pieces. This is music that requires an intense listen as not all will be uncovered on first listen. An example of this is the piece “The Tower” with bubbling electronics underneath the drone and ambient soundscapes. There is something about the pieces that speaks of a variety of influences. Certain tracks move more into explorative dark ambient meets post metal atmospherics like on the previously mentioned “Invocation” or “Black Sea”, while on “Shadow Work” a minimal beat led piano meets almost jazz like feel collides with a mini orchestra. The music on “Thresholds” feels like an exploration of emotions put through the prism of an expansive choice of musical styles. The trio have a way of constructing pieces that feels that every element is meant to be there, there is no forced decisions or trying to make something fit.
While with other release I have wanted the artists to stay more on a focused musical vision, the pieces on “Thresholds” show exactly how it should be when you have a large sound palette at your disposal, the compositional skills and the talent to pull it off. The eleven tracks and the thirty eights minutes of music feel longer (in a good way) and leave you wanting more . Anyway, enough of my writing I just want to listen to this some more.
“Thresholds” is available on CD and Digital and is recommended.
You can also buy it here.