For the shortest month, February was packed with new and upcoming releases that I loved. Taken together with music that was released or previewed in January, I already have a short-list for finest recordings of the year, and my pleasure in listening to these recordings assures me firmly that I will be enjoying them just as much, if not more, by the time the day light starts to wane:
Atoms for Peace, Amok. This recording confirms that Radiohead is Thom Yorke’s band. The only constant with Radiohead is Yorke, but this record sits at the foundation of the Radiohead aesthetic, which combines beauty, power, supple rhythms and an irresistible forward flow. It grooves, shimmers, and surrounds the listener with evocative stimulation. Yorke’s voice floats atop the textures, which balance space and rich colors. A fantastic record.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away. Equally fantastic. This is a departure in style for Cave, but one that suits his ideas and sensibilities so well that it is not only welcome, but seems the point that his career has been moving in. The narrative lyrics and metaphors are still there, rooted deep in Anglo-American folk traditions, the voice is as seductive as ever, but the music not longer holds to song forms. Instead, the vocals are delivered over a beds of looping patterns, making this just as much an ‘electronica’ record as Amok. This doesn’t diminish Cave’s songwriting, but rather focusses it on the things that matter: the words, the rueful, intimate delivery, the sense of the sublime.
Barbara Govatos, violin, Marcantonio Barone, piano, Beethoven, the Violin Sonatas. Did you think I only listen to pop music? This actually had a release date of December 2012, but the promo did not reach me until last month. These are, of course, great pieces of music that sit at the center of the Western Classical chamber music tradition, and these are exceptionally fine performances. Govatos and Barone literally ravish each phrase with musical attention, everything is done with meaning and purpose, and they have a complete understanding of the architectural aspects of the music and how they serve the emotional content. Govatos has a tremendous violin sound, one of the best I’ve heard, and the entire recording has been beautifully captured. Great interaction, lustrous phrasing throughout. This has displaced the formidable set from Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich as the first choice.
The rest of the list:
Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestras, Nielsen: Symphonies 2 & 3. There’s a Nielsen revival going on and that’s exciting. This release finishes up Davis’ live cycle, which has been personal and quirky and rewarding.
Steve Coleman and Five Elements, Functional Arrhythmias. Dense, complex structural and rhythmic patterns from Coleman. While I miss Jen Shyu’s voice his previous two releases, this is an advance in the sophistication of Coleman’s concept of applying structures found in nature to music. Mysterious, sometimes opaque, but compelling.
Gloria Cheng and the Calder Quartet, The Edge of Light: Messiaen and Saariaho. Beautiful chamber music from two great composers. I love the way Cheng plays Messiaen’s “Huit Preludes” like it was Ravel, and the stark aesthetic of Saariaho’s music is a natural for the group.
Matthias Goerne, Schubert: Erlkönig. From one of the finest contemporary voices and singer, a performance that emphasizes the music and underplays the Romanticism, to great effect.
Richard Egarr, Bach: The English Suites. Egarr has been recording the Bach keyboard works on harpsichord, and his series is one of the finest there is.
Nadia Sirota, Baroque. Perhaps it is, but unlike Bach. This second recital disc from Sirota on co-produced by New Amsterdam and Bedroom Community (UPDATED) is less immediately surprising, but repeated listening shows power and depth to the pieces from Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazzoli and Nico Muhly, and welcome respites from Shara Worden and others. Very fine.
Jace Clayton, Julius Eastman Memory Depot. This is a major release, ambitious and accomplished. Eastman’s music is exciting, important and neglected, and on this disc Clayton presents both “Evil Nigger” and “Gay Guerrilla,” two piano works that display Eastman’s virtues of irreverence, seriousness and forceful thinking and expression. Clayon uses electronics to rework the instruments sounds in something of an elegiac haunting of his own work by the composer. It’s terrific.
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