2016 Notes and Tones


After listening to what is now close to 500 recordings with a 2016 release date, I feel like I’ve discovered some themes. Some of this is the elusive zeitgeist, what is on the minds of musical artists; some is longer term trends having to do with technology and pop culture; some may just be coincidence. But all were noticeable and satisfied my arbitrary criteria for a sample size.

Jeff Parker

Nothing sub rosa here, Parker has been around for a while and has been one of most interesting guitarists on the scene, creating his own niche in between jazz, rock, neo-soul, and improvised music. He’s living testament that there’s no real line between the popular and the avant-garde in African-American music, it’s all on a spectrum, and a pretty compact one at that.

His album The New Breed (International Anthem) made the most noise this year, and it is solid. I don’t love it though; the intentionally fragmented nature, while interesting, doesn’t really satisfy—the record wants to be both experimental and neatly controlled, and those are contradictory goals.

But there are two other recordings to his credit that are fine. One is a seemingly modest but actually deep solo record, Slight Freedom (Eremite), which has Parker exploring his own fascinating art. The other is drummer Matt Mayhall’s Tropes (Skirl), a tight, strong debut based around the trio of Mayhall, bassist Paul Bryan, and Parker (with various guests). Parker’s contributions are integral to the success of the disc, which is the best jazz debut of the year, and my regrets that I did not get this out of the pile for listening until after the deadline for Francis Davis’ Jazz Critics Poll. Both these are strongly recommended and on my extended list for best new releases.


There’s been a longer term trend in the proliferation of terrific guitarists—and please don’t think of just jazz. Many of them play jazz, but they are playing in every sort of style and tradition Some are relatively new on the scene, others are established, and they keep putting out one solid record after another (or, like Parker, are important sidemen on other musicians’ records). Here are recordings from guitarists that I enjoyed this year and recommend:

Ask me on a different day, and any and all of these could be on my list of 52.


First, I want to express some disappointment. As someone with a man-crush on Kurt Elling, his appearance on Branford Marsalis’ Upward Spiral never captured my attention, and I find his Christmas disc hard going. But there were other fine releases from singers that had the balance of artistry and creativity that I seek—I want my singers to be good musicians! Try these, they are all terrific:

Seriously swinging, musical singing from all the above. Everyone should hear Bertault sing “The Peacocks“ in French.


This was a strong year for Sunnyside records. I have several of their releases in my top 52, and you’ll find a couple of the vocalists there. Other keepers are Andrew Cyrille and Bill McHenry’s duet album, Proximity, Dan Blake’s tough-as-nails The Digging, and two records with a south of the Trump wall flavor, Edward Simon’s Latin American Songbook, and Argentum from Carlos Franzetti.

ECM is by default one of the major labels, but their output this year took nothing for granted and was impressive even by their consistent standards. I do go against some of the consensus favorites, like Michael Formanek’s The Distance, which I found wan, but they had a run of fine records in that typical ECM style that carved out a space between improvisation and contemporary classical control. Along with the release on my best of list:

ECM also had several excellent classical and new music releases, those you will find in a forthcoming post.


52 Pick-Up: Best NewMusic 2016

52 of the best new releases of the year, 52 out of the the 430 (as of this writing) new releases I listened to. Every year I fiddle with how to make and present these lists, and the idea here is obvious; one record to every week. For this I used the criteria of releases that I would gladly listen to, non-stop, for an entire week. That is, music that not only satisfied critical thinking, but that was a complete pleasure in the way it swamped critical thinking and just occupied the pleasure centers of my mind and body. Each note or sound was like a brick in a marvelous structure, and I wanted to hear it being built, piece by piece, over and over again. I could add an “honorable mentions” list with recordings that could move in an out of my 52, depending on mood, but I’ll that for the comments section, if anyone cares to discuss this.

I’ve placed this in rough genres that should be self-explanatory (“Popular” is any music that can be placed in a popular music category, from metal to hip hop; “New Classical” is music in that classical tradition that was both composed in the last generation or two and newly heard on recording). If you compare the Jazz/Blues below to my best jazz post, you’ll see some differences: the previous post was for Francis Davis’ categories, here I’m using mine, and I differentiate between musicians playing jazz and jazz musicians improvising in non-jazz idioms.

(Note that these are unranked because the criteria gives them equal value. Also note that I will have a separate list of for reissues and archival recordings.)






New Classical

Popular Styles

Again, this list could be longer, but without limits I never would have gotten to the end. There are more worthy releases this year that I’ll get to in an upcoming post on notes and trends of 2016. Happy listening.

Best Jazz Albums 2015


This list is built around the ballot I sent to Francis Davis for his 10th Jazz Critic’s Poll, which (UPDATE) is posted at NPR. As someone who grew up reading and admiring (and learning a good deal about thinking and writing from) Davis’ criticism, I’m always thrilled to be a part of this.

There’s only one hard and fast thing about this list—I feel Epicenter, from Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, is absolutely the best jazz album of the year, and have thought that since my first listen. The rest can change from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute …

This ballot is always frustrating to fill out. I listened to around 200 jazz recordings that were released in 2015, and that number is only a (substantial) portion of the total jazz recordings that came out this year. And the flow never stops, there are recordings that are coming out every week (like the new Kneedelus album and Robin Eubanks’ big band record) that due to the limits of time and a hard deadline, I simply cannot listen to prior to making this list (I’ll get to them eventually).

When I pick what I feel are the year’s best recordings, it’s a gut reaction. I’ve been doing the critical listening thing for long enough now that I trust my ears to tell me if something succeeds, then later I can go back and analyze the why, what, and how of it. The best music to me is the music that feels completely satisfying, and I take things on their own terms, so playing free can be as satisfying as playing a standard. There are more than ten records that were completely satisfying to me this year, but this list is limited to “10 Best New Releases,” so my choices are both arbitrary and calculated: I’ve tried to spread it across styles within a broad definition of jazz as a genre, and in some cases it’s been a bit of a coin toss to fit the album on the list. Please note that my picks for vocal, debut, and latin jazz albums are all excellent and belong in the top ten.

I’ve augmented this with additional titles that will not count in this poll. Everything you see under “The Elevens” are all worthy of top ten inclusion, I just ran out of chairs. Below that is the honorable mention category, which is recordings that are packed full of excellent music but just don’t quite work as complete albums; often the issue is that they’re just too long, e.g. seventy minutes when fifty-five would have been ideal. Since that’s an album issue, less a musical one, I’ve put them in that category. They are recommended nonetheless, and your mileage will surely vary.

Now, a couple arguments. Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and the A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters are likely going to come up big this year, at least from what I see from the Jazz Journalists Association chatter (I am not currently a member because I remain unemployed and cannot afford the annual dues). I have reservations about both:

The Epic is played and produced to the nth degree, a complete pleasure to listen to and fulfilling throughout it’s entire duration. It’s also a stillborn recreation of an era that passed over forty years ago. Jazz has moved on quite far from the Coltrane/modal/spiritual era, and critically I can never recommend historical recreations (re-imagining and re-contextualization are another matter) when there is so much fine jazz being made that reflects the present and pushes into the future. For a more detailed argument, I recommend you read Ryan Meehan’s review which we published in the Rail.

It is no criticism of John Coltrane nor of A Love Supreme to say that the Complete Masters release is disappointing and unessential. The only meaningful difference between this and the 2002 Deluxe Edition are several alternate tracks that show Coltrane initially thought of the work as a sextet, with Archie Shepp and Richard Davis in the group. Those show the idea was unworkable, that it moved the music towards absolute music when the goal was Coltrane’s personal spiritual expression: Shepp and Davis just don’t get what’s going on. It’s musicologically interesting to see that detail, but it’s a distraction from the actual music and the album, and in my opinion did not merit rerelease. I detect the cynical whiff of profiteering, and I’m sorry I spent what little money I have on it.

Remember, if you order by clicking the links, you help support this site.

10 Best New Releases

  1. Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, Epicenter
  2. Myra Melford, Snowy Egret
  3. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls
  4. Mary Halvorson, Meltframe
  5. Noah Preminger, Live at the 55 Bar
  6. William Parker/Raining on the Moon, Great Spirit
  7. Stephen Haynes, Pomegranate
  8. Mike Reed’s People Places & Things, A New Kind of Dance
  9. Aarhus Jazz Orchestra, featuring David Liebman and Marilyn Mazur, Lars Møller’s ReWrite of Spring
  10. Erik Friedlander, Oscalypso

The 11s:

  • Darius Jones Quartet, Le bébé de Brigitte
  • Nicole Mitchell/Tomeka Reid/Mike Reed, Artifacts
  • Liberty Ellman, Radiate
  • Avisha Cohen Trio, From Darkness
  • Jason Roebke, Every Sunday
  • Chicago Reed Quartet, Western Automatic
  • Pascal Niggenkemper, ‘‘look with thine ears’
  • Mario Pavone/Matt Mitchell/Tyshawn Sorey, Blue Dialect
  • Jack DeJohnette, Made in Chicago
  • Cristina Pato, Latino
  • Joey Calderozzo Trio, Going Home
  • Power Trio, Di Lontan
  • John Hébert, Rambling Confessions
  • PRISM Quartet, Heritage/Evolution Volume 1
  • Eve Risser, des pas sur la neige
  • Rempis Percussion Quartet, Cash and Carry
  • Ran Blake/Sara Serpa, Kitano Noir
  • Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, You’ve Been Watching Me
  • Wooley/Rempis/Niggenkemper/Corsano, From Wolves to Whales
  • Zs, Xe
  • Dre Hocevar Trio, Coding of Eventuality
  • Food, This is not a miracle
  • Hypercolor, Hypercolor
  • Nate Wooley Quintet, (Dance to) The Early Music
  • J.D. Allen, Graffiti
  • Frank Carlberg, big enigmas
  • Ross Hammond, Flight
  • Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance, Synovial Joints
  • Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, Intents and Purposes
  • Marta Sánchez Quintet, partenika
  • Bjørn Solli, Aglow: The Lyngøe Project, Volume 1
  • Andrew Bishop, De Profundis

Honorable Mention:

  • James Brandon Lewis, Days of FreeMan
  • Jean-Michel Pic, What is this Thing Called?
  • Chris Potter Underground, Imaginary Cities
  • Matt Mitchell, Vista Accumulation
  • Enrico Rava Quartet, Wild Man Dance
  • Jon Irabagon, Behind the Sky
  • Mike Osborne, Dawn
  • Sal Mosca, The Talk of the Town
  • Amir El-Saffar, Crisis
  • Kenny Wheeler, Songs for Quintet
  • Makaya McCraven, In the Moment
  • Christian Howes, American Spirit
  • Chris Dingman, The Subliminal and the Sublime
  • Robert Sabin, Humanity Part II
  • Saxophone Quartet Dicke Luft, Carillon
  • Fresh Cut Orchestra, From the Vine
  • Louis Belgonis, Blue Buddha
  • Ozo, A Kind of Zo
  • Brian Landrus Trio, The Deep Below
  • Frantz Loriot/Manuel Perovic Notebook Large Ensemble, Urban Furrow
  • Vijay Iyer Trio, Break Stuff
  • Ochion Jewell Quartet, Volk
  • Shareef Clayton, North & South
  • Andrew Drury, Content Provider
  • Jeff Denson Trio + Lee Konitz, Jeff Denson Trio + Lee Konitz
  • Mike Sopko, Bill Laswell, Thomas Pridgen, Sopko Laswell Pridgin

Top Three Reissues or Historical Albums:

  1. Cecil Taylor, The Complete in Berlin ‘88
  2. Sonny Rollins Quartet with Don Cherry, Complete Live at the Village Gate 1962
  3. Steve Lacy Quintet, Last Tour

Honorable Mention:

Best Vocal Album


Frank Lacy and the Mingus Big Band, Mingus Sings

Best Debut Album


Roots Magic, Hoodoo Blues

Best Latin jazz Album


Paquito D’Rivera & Quinteto Cimarron, Aires Tropicales

Good listening to all

The Big City is supported by readers like you. Please consider a donation or a subscription.

On The Far Side Of The Year

One complaint about year-end, best-of lists is that they have an arbitrary cut-off and miss subsequent release. That of course is true, but there’s got to be a line somewhere, or else the work never gets done.

There’s the record that’s not a new Ornette Coleman, per se, but a new recording in which Ornette is a major player. That’s got to be on some kind of list.

As I was making my lists, more records came out. Once I got around to listening to them it was easy to hear the excellence. So consider this also some of the best of the year—especially the Boston Modern Orchestra Project recording of Andrew Norman’s Play, which, with it’s incredible vibrancy, restlessness and embrace of chaos inside structure, is restoring my faith there are young composers who want to unsettle and excite, not just soothe. The D’Angelo record I have mixed feelings about, but I think that repeated listening will help it come out from under the hype, and also help it sound more natural, because the first few listeners have left me feeling that it was made out of an assembly of obligatory parts. Listen via Rdio or Spotify, and please consider a modest donation to support this site, especially if you find some pleasing new music through this post:

[paypal_button hosted_button_id=”XQ4RKEY869EJG”>

Be a regular supporter
Reader : $1.95 USD – monthly
Patron : $5.95 USD – monthly
Philanthropist : $10.95 USD – monthly
Medici : $15.95 USD – monthly

Best New Music Albums 2014

Best Downtown Music 2014

Best New Music Albums 2014
This is the second half of the classical list, music that has common origins in the Western tradition, in the expansive sense of music that began with a social purpose and then developed an abstract movement that we generally call classical music. Since the turn of the 20th century, and especially since after WWII, that tradition exploded into myriad pathways that moved along several lines—experimental, avant-garde, gestalt world music, non-jazz/non-classical improvisation, instrumental rock-based music, electronic music—that have created a large-scale genre that, as a short-hand, I’ve started to call the “downtown international” style. It’s place where musicians coming out of multiple traditions meet through a common set of values. They are not there to make hybrid, synthesized music, but to add their own ideas to a general pool, out of which truly new music is constantly growing. This is also the music that first my personal taste and compositional and aesthetic values most closely, and is the hardest yet most exciting list to compile.
You can buy these albums here, except where otherwise noted
Post-WWII composing

  • Tyshawn Sorey Trio, Alloy. My personal favorite and overall best record of the year. One reason for that is the musical ideas inside it are so deep and powerful that they’re a little bit frightening, it’s a large universe in which to lose oneself. Alloy is on a lot of jazz lists, but I can’t put it on mine: Sorey is most closely and accurately defined as a jazz musician, but this is an album, like his others, of his compositions, and there is so little jazz concept and aesthetic in them that they are pretty much sui generis. One of the fascinating features of his music is that, while he can be heard at the drum kit, the sense of rhythm as time is almost nonexistent (except in “Template”). The music is full of space, a sense that notes and events are placed intuitively (which I deeply admire, it’s extremely difficult to develop the ear and confidence to write such sparse yet finely structured music), the feeling of an internal journey without beginning or end. Feldman is the heuristic commonly applied to Sorey’s composing, but that’s misleading. Feldman, especially his mature music, wrote scores that are dense with activity. Sorey shares a taste for low dynamics, but the sparseness of his music sounds closer to Cage, only with an entirely different idea of expression. Imagine a Miles Davis trumpet solo removed from a tune, with the space inside expanded by magnitudes, and you get some idea of both the manner of this album, and how great the music is.
  • Bora Yoon, Sunken Cathedral. Tremendously beautiful and involving. This is the audio portion of Yoon’s ambitious multimedia project that will appear at the Prototype Festival next month. The sound combines the purity of her voice. chant, electronic textures, folk instruments, spoke word, and more. Another concept that is fiendishly difficult to hold together, and the firmness of her form makes this exceptional.
  • Tristan Perich, Surface Image. Perich’s work combines imagination and process: as his pieces go along, or as you see them in an installation, the path connecting conception, process and execution is always clear. That alone is both important and satisfying, but the results, like this mesmerizing, new post-minimal piece for piano and electronics, are great music in their own right.
  • a.pe.ri.od.ic, Jürg Frey: More or Less. It’s a good year when I have to choose between this and Andy Lee’s album of Frey piano music, the difference being that I found myself listening to this set of amazing chamber pieces, in excellent performances, a little more often.
  • Harry Partch, Harry Partch: Plectra and Percussion Dances. Self-recommending. This is the first complete recording of the title work, and the CD includes a spoken introduction by Partch that he delivered in 1953.
  • Peter Söderberg, On the Carpet of Leaves Illuminated by the Moon. Söderberg plays the lute, and on this record he performs music by Alvin Lucier, James Tenney, John Cage and Steve Reich. That’s really all you need to know.
  • Flux Quartet, Morton Feldman: String Quartet No. 1. Utter masters of this music. Flux followed up what is now an almost routinely great concert of Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2 with this release. The finest recoding of the String Quartet No. 1, and the finest traversal of the complete string quartet music by Feldman.
  • Ursula Oppens, Bruce Brubaker, Meredith Monk: Piano Songs. Not songs, but piano music, with occasional shouts and yelps. Echt-Monk, the physical vitality of her music, the way the pianos sound like they are hopping and dancing, is a tribute to her compositional ideals. A little disorienting at first to hear her style applied to the keyboard, but it gets better with every listen.
  • Dai Fujikara, Dai Fujikara: ICE. This is simply one of the finest collections of music at the cutting edge of the classical tradition that I’ve heard in years. Fujikara renders the densest and most complex ideas with complete clarity and control of his materials, and ICE plays the music like they’ve been working on it for years. Which they pretty much have.
  • Sarah Cahill, Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns of Plants. Fujieda’s work is one of the most striking compositions in contemporary music. The music is literally organic, composed out of Fujieda’s recordings of electrical activity in plants. What comes out is music that has an uncanny feeling of belonging to every place and epoch, yet having no identifiable national or temporal features. It is truly strange and beautiful. Cahill plays it with the attention to detail and musicality that one usually hears pianists bring to Schubert. Not a complete set of this magnum opus, but the most extensive to date.
Pos-WWII playing

  • Nils Bultmann, Troubadour Blue. A set of musical rich and beautiful viola improvisations that delve deep into the history of western music.
  • Bernd Klug, Cold Commodities. A gripping, surprising, unique and accomplished album that combines found sounds, electronics and improvisation with tremendous rigor and expression.
  • Asphalt Orchestra plays the Pixies: Surfer Rosa. An amazing record. These arrangements are imaginative sonic adaptations of the classic Pixie’s album, transforming the originals into something more complex and more consistently satisfying.
  • Robin Williamson, Trusting in the Rising Light. A strange, entrancing disc from one of the founders of The Incredible String band. This is a collection of songs that, though originals, have deep roots in ancient memories and traditions. WIlliamson’s voice is ravaged with age, making the expression that much more effective. Fantastic accompaniment from Mat Maneri and Ches Smith.
  • Lumen Drones. Post-rock meets Hardanger fiddle. Difficult to describe, the music drone based, full of rhythm and improvisation, tough and delicate at once. Must be heard, it’s completely wonderful.
  • Carolina Eyck, Christopher Tarnow, Improvisations for Theremin and Piano. Much more than a curiosity, this is fascinating set. Eyck is a tremendous theremin player, with complete command of tone and texture. Mostly quiet and tonal, the playing is superb, don’t be thrown by the twee track titles.
  • Battle Trance, Palace of Wind. I have the privilege of experiencing a performance of this piece by this quartet of tenor saxophonists, and it was jaw-dropping and powerful. Imagine Colin Stetson times four, playing non-stop for about forty five minutes with a romantic conception of transcendence, and you have some idea of the depths of this album.
  • Travis Just + Object Collection, No Song. Downtown to the max, turned up to 11! The good natured aggression of this record adds a sense of fun, but the playing is purposeful, intense, and heavier than the doomiest sludge. (http://shop.khalija.com/album/no-song)
  • Plymouth. The members of this band are Jamie Saft, Joe Morris, Chris Lightcap, Gerald Cleaver and Mary Halvorson. They play dense, lively, passionate, intelligent noise improvisations. Excellent in every way, and the best release so far from Rarenoise records.
  • Thurston Moore/John Moloney, Caught on Tape. Loud, but delicate. The muscularity hides what, underneath, is a severe, even ascetic aesthetic, a search for beauty in the midst of conflict, like the edge of razor blade, shining through a pile of trash. Pretty much Moore’s finest moments as a guitar player.
Electronic Music

  • Dave Seidel, ~60Hz. As pure as music gets. Seidel’s pieces are made by combing sine waves and letting them play. Engrossing and gorgeous.
  • John Supko, Bill Seaman, s_traits. This record is astonishing. I’ll refer you to Marshall Yarbrough’s article for the details, but this upends every idea of structure and form and makes it work. Hard stop listening to.
  • No Lands, Negative Space. A prime example of the possibilities of electronic music: this band’s debut (mainly it’s Michael Hammond), is as abstract as Ussachevsky and as appealing as Tangerine Dream. Excellent.
  • Guenter Schlienz, Loop Studies. A haunting exploration of looped acoustic instruments and electronics. The music seems to be coming from the type of future that the past imagined would arrive. (https://sinkcds.bandcamp.com/album/loop-studies)
  • Philip White, Documents. Plastic, complex sound produced from the raw musical data extracted from a series of well-known, popular recordings. (https://philipwhite.bandcamp.com)
  • Michael Pisaro, Continuum Unbound. Field recordings and instrumental music, listening across the three discs is a transporting experience. (http://michaelpisaro.blogspot.com/2014/05/continuum-unbound-fall-2014.html)
  • Rand Steiger, A Menacing Plume. Electro-acoustic works with a classical feel of modernism. Steiger is fine composer and the pieces, including the superb title work and Résonateur, are played expertly by Talea Ensemble.
  • Jacob Cooper, Silver Threads. There are many projects that combine voice and electronics, but they are rarely as accomplished as this set of electronic art songs, with the terrific Mellissa Hughes singing.
  • Juan Bianco, Nuestro Tiempo. Electronic music from Cuba that might have been a mere object of curiosity, but Bianco, who was unknown to me when this arrived, is a serious and excellent composer, with a sense of vitality.
  • Faures, Continental Drift. Like atmospheric haze composed of tiny, shiny crystals; pristine, warm, enveloping. (https://homenormal.bandcamp.com/album/continental-drift)
This is not the type of music in which there are frequent reissues, but notable this year is a Cello Anthology, a box set of four CDs with a beautiful, thick book. This collects performances and biographical information of the new music cellist Charlotte Moorman, without whom the musical landscape would be very different and far more impoverished. 

Best Pop Albums 2014

This is the least rationalized, most personal list I come up with. There’s plenty of music I listen to during the year that I have praise for, but my personal and professional interest in jazz, classical, experimental, improvised, etc music includes critical praise of things for how they work, not necessarily for how much un-thinking, in-the-body pleasure they give me. These are my pleasures from the year—don’t get hung up on the order, Kahane is on top simply because I caught his wonderful staging of The Ambassador last week: these are all number one on any given day (find them here, except for where noted):

  • Gabriel Kahane, The Ambassador. Why do we consider Schubert’s music to be “art” songs? Because the best, most human work gives us the particular sensibility of a time and place, expresses a story common to most human experience, and uses both poetic metaphor and sophisticated musical artifice. The Schubert style of art song sounds off-putting and arch when wielded by contemporary composers. as does the use of old poetry (Wilhelm Müller was Schubert’s contemporary), especially because we have decades of powerful, beautifully made songs that have a pop style and appeal and the musical and poetic sophistication to be enduringly moving. Gabriel Kahane’s new album is a collection of songs that use the architecture of Los Angeles to connect the movies and television to our personal experiences, dreams and nightmares. It is the audio equivalent to The Phantom Empire. It is immersive and moving. It is art.
  • Air Cushion Finish, Spree. This was the first set of the first night I attended at Suoni per il Popolo in Montreal this past June, and it has been haunting me ever since. Two musicians making a dream-like flow of musical and lyrical ideas, and dream-like is the right word: there are preconceived islands, and the music drifts in free-form manner among them. Beautiful, involving and truly uncanny, this album is also refreshingly close to experiencing the band live. (https://aircushionfinish.bandcamp.com/album/spree)
  • Flying Lotus, You’re Dead! Another generation along from Aphex Twin, Keith Ellison reaches both farther into the future and deeper into the past. With Thundercat appearing again, the roots are in the tremendously enjoyable fusion music of Stanley Clarke, and the unique style and sense of form show what real imagination can produce when channeled through a laptop.
  • Ava Luna, Electric Balloon. Hip, funky, goofy, funny and serious, Carlo Martinez’s latest is an excellent, unique album in its own right, and fuel for anyone who has an itch for the bad-good old NYC of the 80s.
  • Aphex Twin, Syro. A reminder that EDM used to be IDM until the DJs started mainlining the same handful of beats to the herd. This has the type of try-to-keep-up headlong rush that is Richard D. James’ signature sensibility, along with the technical inventiveness and musical creativity that belongs to the best electronic music.
  • the cellar and point, ambit. I could, and should, have a whole list dedicated to the enduring and ongoing development and spread of progressive rock, but for now, I will just urge you to listen to this great record. It’s on the math-y side of the music, intricate in the way sophisticated puzzles are designed, made with a light, flowing touch. Direct and full of surprises and fun.
  • Ratking, So it Goes. I’m so old I remember when hip hop was weird, oddball, in the streets not to front a stance but in the way that young people create things outside of the rules, because they don’t know or care about those rules. Smart as hell, sociable and disdainful, this group makes their hermetic obsessions desirable.
  • Eagulls, Eagulls. Old school in spirit, refreshingly new in sound. This punk band from England makes all the details of the style sound new, while appealing powerfully to memories of Echo and the Bunnymen. Terrific, big, confident sound.
  • Yob, Clearing the Path to Ascend. I like my metal with an attitude of doom, a monstrous heaping of sludge, chunky riffs, melodic shape, and enough shoe-gaze for me to think the music appreciates the larger universe. Check, check, check, check and check.
  • SONAR, Static Motion. The impossible record. Complex, minimal instrumental grooves that are so loping and locked in place that the slightest variation of articulation, the briefest solo, have monumental effect. Seventy minutes of watching the movement of the most beautifully made clock you’ve ever seen.
  • Best Reissues 2014:

  • King Crimson, Starless (Deluxe box set). It is quite an experience to follow this band through so many gigs on this 1974 tour. Each song, each set gets better and deeper than the last. The set is the ultimate definition of Robert Fripp’s statement that King Crimson is a process. Superb remastering and sound quality throughout.
  • Captain Beefheart, Sun, Zoom, Spark: 1970 to 1972. As maddeningly inconsistent as he could be, when Beefheart was at his best, he made some of the greatest music this country has ever produced. This was when he was at his best.
  • Tears for Fears, Songs From the Big Chair (Super Deluxe Edition). Collections like this based around one single album, even when the album is as spectacular as this one, frequently end up dredging nothing but dross. That this is nothing but gems is revealing evidence of how fine this band was.
  • Parchman Farm: Photographs and Field Recordings. A finely made set from Dust to Digital that collects and reissues Alan Lomax’s field recordings of prison and chain gang crews singing, and talking, the blues. The source code to American popular music, which is beautiful because it’s black.
  • Best Classical Albums 2014

    First, a note on genres and categories: Like my jazz list, this one is defined by the genre, and like that jazz list I’m doing this to be inclusive. In terms of history and tradition, the accumulation of ideas, styles and forms through time, classical music (like jazz) had a long-expanding common language, then reached a revolutionary point where that splintered. What we have is, one on the one hand, a system of tuning, harmony and structure that has proliferated through epochs of style for hundreds of years and, after WWII, a tradition of experimentation and avant-garde exploration that takes discrete aspects of the old tradition and uses them as the foundation for the on-going, and still unfinished, creation of new systems.

    That means this list is the first of two, one that is concerned with new recordings of the standard classical repertoire and new music that belongs to that tradition (including minimalism and post-minimalism)—today’s list—the other in the post-WWII tradition. One is the descendent of the other, but instead of going into the family business, decided to do something more … I don’t know, DIY. That list will come soon.

    You can buy everything below through this list compiled at Amazon.

    Best 2014 Releases of the Standard Repertoire (music that has been recorded before):