Best Reanimations 2016

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The depth and range of 2016 reissues and archival releases was not as great as previous that of previous, years (especially 2015), but there were a small handful of such releases this year that were of rare quality and importance.

The most notable was Decca’s release of their Mozart 225 complete edition of his works. I’ve gone into more detail on this release here, and the short version is that this is the greatest collection of some of the greatest music in human civilization. The choice of performances is superior throughout, and if there is an emphasis on the new thinking that has come out of the Period Performance Practice movement, there is also a generous selection of wonderful performances that are historically important due to their sheer, exalted, quality. Round that out with fragments, works with unclear provenance, a good, short, hard-bound biography, and a new Köchel catalog, and this is a cornerstone collection for a serious classical music lover. But yes, it is expensive, and even with that cost it’s not perfect—my copy has a misprint in the booklet for opera and theater music. At this price, that type of quality control error should not happen, and it’s unclear to me if Decca will replace it, they don’t seem to have anything in the way of customer service.

(Note: Amazon price as of this posting, $340, is the best I’ve seen since it was released, and very close to the best pre-order price that had been available)

(Billboard reports that this is a surprise best-seller, moving more CDs than anything else released this year. This is misleading because they are multiplying the number of boxes sold—6,000 or so out of a total of 13,000 in this limited edition—by the 200 CDs contained within.)

For those sensitive to their budgets, there are still some amazing releases out within a wide price range. My favorites are:

Classical

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There were some good Bruckner boxes out this year too, but I’ll be writing about them in January.

Jazz

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  • Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance: Bootleg Series Vol. 5. On the surface this might seem to be only for the specialists—the complete tape from the session that produce the great Miles Smiles album. But that means you are there while arguably the greatest ensemble in jazz history puts together a classic recording on the fly. An indispensable look into jazz as process, full of invaluable insights into what made Miles such an unsurpassed band leader. It’s tremendously exciting and makes the original album sound even better.
  • The Complete Savoy Be-Bop Sessions, 1945–49. Savoy is best known as Charlie Parker’s label. But these 10 CDs from the vaults have everything else on the label from that period, vintage early bebop excursions from Dexter Gordon, Milt Jackson, Stan Getz, and many more. One marvelous track after another, complete with alternate takes and the typical excellent documentation from Mosaic.
  • Sun Ra, The Singles Volume 1. Sun Ra’s singles are more than just fodder for condescending hipster lifestyles, they are a Rosetta Stone that decodes American popular music. If you don’t already have the original Evidence collection, absolutely get this. And if you do have it, this new set from Strut has plenty of additional tracks recently unearthed.
  • UPDATED (Can’t believe I forgot this): Peter Erskine Trio: As It Was. This is a 4 CD collection from ECM, everything that this trio produced. Taken together, this series of albums from the 1990s make for a pinnacle of modern piano trio jazz, and the late English pianist John Taylor is simply outstanding on every track.
  • Arthur Blythe: In the Tradition/Lenox Avenue Breakdown/Illusions/Blythe Spirit. Four albums on two CDs, for $20. Lenox and Illusions are two of the greatest albums of the post-fusion era, testaments to the beautifully creative and vital music made on the Loft Jazz scene.
  • Searching for You: The Lost Singles of McVouty (1958–1974). On Resonance, Zev Feldman produced two important archival releases this year, covering Larry Young and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. He had his hand in this one too, and there’s little this year I enjoyed as much.

Everything Else

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  • Harry Bertoia: Complete Sonambient Collection. A marvelous box from Important Records. This beautifully remasters and documents the records sculptor Bertoia made playing his Sonambient sound sculptures. Hours of rich, mysterious, beautiful, and immersive sounds.
  • Machine Gun: Jimi Hendrix: The Filmore East First Show 12/31/1969. The complete first set of Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys. An amazing performance and unintended culmination of Jimi’s musical world: blues, soul, funk, and rock.
  • Led Zepellin, Complete BBC Sessions. While it might be hard to imagine you would want to hear five different performances of “Communications Breakdown” in the same collection, the playing here is so exciting and powerful that you will enjoy every one. Some spectacular moments in Zepellin’s history.
  • Hey Colossus: Dedicated to Uri Klanger. A compilation of fairly recent music that had limited release previously, this should serve as an ideal introduction to this noise band. Their sound is heavy and warm and completely exhilarating. Not a dull moment to be heard.
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A Month of Listening: February 2016

A short month perhaps, but no concessions the number of days: in this year’s leap-month of February, I listened to 38 recordings, making a total of 94 for the year so far. My current pace will have me covering 564 records that are new/recent releases for this year, a little under what I heard last year.

That pace will change, of course. In February, I spent considerable time listening to Beethoven symphonies and string quartets in my collection, and also spent some time with Sibelius and Bruckner and Thelonious Monk. Of the new music, and along with the Recordings of the Week series, my favorites for the month were:

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2671195013/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Here’s the February 2016 Listening I use for details, for the curious. I encourage you to check out any and all of the above releases, and happy listening.

A Month of Listening: January 2016

This is a record, embedded below (or downloadable here), of my January month of listening. It’s not everything I heard, but it is all the new and recently released recordings that I listened to. Everything on this list passed by my ears at least once, and there are several things I listened to many times; Blackstar got five separate spins, and I listened to some of the symphonies in Daniel Barenboim’s new Bruckner cycle more than once—these are examples.

Bests of the Month of Listening

Everything on here is at least decent—the only way to get through close to 60 new recordings in a month is to quickly abandon recordings that are bad, they don’t end up on here. The Recording of the Week series is an implicit selection of the bests from the month, but there’s only so many weeks, so here is a further list of my favorite new recordings, and these are the ones that I deeply, personally, loved:

  • Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, Ives: Symphonies 3 & 4. Stunning. Symphony No. 3 is excellent and the performance of Symphony No. 4 is extraordinary, full of careful detail and an understanding of the overall design, direction, and aesthetic effect. Morlot’s pace is not just ideal, but a means to build, moment by moment, a kind of exalted tension that culminates into a glimpse of the Great Oversoul.
  • Jeremy Flower, The Real Me. The tastemakers are likely going to give this the dreaded “indie-classical” label. Maybe they’re right, but that means nothing. What this is is a terrific rock album, with great song-craft and playing. Do the songs revolve around some central meaning? Maybe. Is it a song-cycle? Sure, why not, whatever. It’s just great.
  • Look to the North, 5,000 Blackbirds Fall Out of the Sky. Since I received CD #37 out of a total issue of 40, there’s not way you’re going to be able to find this one (one track is available through Bandcamp). But maybe a friend has it. The record is a combination of field recordings and ambient/drone electronics. It’s sonically deep, and tells fragments of stories that hint at profound personal and social loss. This has a real wallop.
  • Jaimeo Brown, Transcendence: Work Songs. A beautiful conception with exceptionally smart and musical execution. Brown has taken recordings of works songs, including famous ones from Parchman Farm and others from South-East Asia, and used them as ostinatos underneath his own material. The musical style is a tangy stew of blues, jazz, soul, and funk, and the balance between immediate physical pleasure and entertainment, and wrenching and angry questions about work, power, and exploitation, makes this great popular art, without pandering in any way. J.D. Allen is the feature horn player here, and his playing is in line with the veiled power of the record (release date February 12).
  • Robert Ashley, Crash. I’ve written a lot about this work already. What you need to know is that this is a recording made from the run of the opera at Roulette in April of last year. Ashley’s late works are his greatest, and this one is a real culmination of his life’s work.

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Personal Best: 2015

I’ve done my official list of the best classical and jazz recordings of 2015, and now here’s my personal one—the records that as a non-critical listener I simply enjoyed the most. That’s out of 600 or so new recordings I listened to in 2015. 600. Actually more …

There’s an arbitrary, top-12 separation, one for each month of the year, and then forty more releases to follow, which all means that I’d be glad to listen to one of these, and nothing else, for an entire week.

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Personal Best—One for Every Month

  • Charenee Wade: Offering. I am mystified why this record got so little critical attention. This is Wade’s tribute to Gil Scott-Heron, which she realizes through elegant, musical arrangements of his songs. This is affecting music with a terrific band (some of the names are Lonnie Plaxico, Dave Stryker, and Stefon Harris), perhaps the trouble with it is that no one expects Scott-Heron’s songs to be so fine and so powerful without his inimitable delivery. Well, the songs are that good, and Wade’s singing clothes their substantial force in loveliness.
  • José James: Yesterday I Had the Blues. This record grew on me. What at first seemed to be polite, slightly rote renditions of songs Billie Holiday made famous revealed iteself gradually to be a record of depth and individuality. James voice is beautiful, and his expression is subtle and plangent. Then there are Jason Moran’s scintillainting voicings underneath. A mesmerizing record that both comforts and abrades.
  • Le Berger: Music for Guitar and Patience. A barely describable of long, quietly jangling pieces for guitar with sound processing. Free to some extent, but ordered around specific explorations of space and timbre. Completely transporting and effective.
  • Hieroglyphic Being & J.I.T.U. Ahn-Sahm-Buhl: We Are Not The First. The antidote to The Epic. The strange thing for me is that after the exuberant structural and formal freedom of To Pimp a Butterfly and You’re Dead, Kamasi Washington’s album would be so aesthetically and musically staid and conservative. This recording, with contributions from Marshall Allen to Shelley Hirsch, is wild, exploratory, leaping off a platform of funk into the uncharted future of African American music. Further confirmation that Sun Ra’s The Singles is the Rossetta Stone of American vernacular music.
  • Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: The Day 1982 Contaminated 1971. No one can say who will be left to hear the voices we leave behind, but Fossil Aerosol Mining Project has, for many years now, been exploring the possible sounds of the future’s past. Enveloping, both disturbing and comforting, it’s exciting that this mysterious ensemble has returned to making new music.
  • Pyramid: A Northern Meadow. My tastes in metal are admittedly specialized: I want a solid wall of deep sound and something other than thudding four-square drumming and cookie-monster style vocals. That’s surprisingly difficult to find, but this superb record checks all the boxes, and does so much more.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=462904211/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=2219665286/transparent=true/

  • C. Duncan: Architect. One of the most sheerly beautiful pop records I have ever heard. Duncan’s song-craft and production are excellent, and his musical phrasing and vocal timbre are gorgeous. You can get the CD or LP soon from Amazon, or get the digital now at Bandcamp.
  • Kill West: Smoke Beach. Something like Pyramids, but different; psychadelic drone-rock from Brazil, with a darkly warm shoegazy sound, insinuating vocals, and a real groove on every track.
  • Jon Mueller: A Magnetic Center. Experimentation that is impossible to pigeon-hole and is exciting. Mueller’s record is made with nothing more than percussion and his own voice. He produces a multi-tracked glossolalia that, combined with the mesmerizing, repetitive beats, creates the feeling of an ancient ritual buried deep within the mind. Odd, abstract, and obsessive in the first few minutes, the experience becomes deep, stunning, and transformative.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2875186250/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=3138450192/transparent=true/

  • Alessandro Cortini: Risveglio. The development of cheap, powerful CPUs has produced a parallel development of powerful music and sound production software. Cortini, one of the most interesting contemporary electronic musicians, instead used what are now vintage pieces of hardware—the Roland 202 monophonic synthesizer/sequencer, and TB303 bass synthesizer/sequencer, combined with a delay. As with all great music, what is seemingly a limitation turns out to be a vast resource of imagination.
  • Aine O’Dwyer: Music for Church Cleaners Vol. I and II. A series of serene and expressive organ improvisations, made after-hours in the presence of the women cleaning the churches. O’Dwyer’s playing seeks its own statement while she also accepts the requests of her accidental audiences to not, for example, “stay on one note for a long time.” The music is lovely on its own, and the atmosphere gives it a unique frisson of live performance.
  • Brian Harnetty: Rawhead & Bloodybones. Not the usual archival release from Dust-to-Digital, but new music from composer Harnetty. He combines samples of music and spoken audio from both the Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives and the Sun Ra/El Saturn Creative Audio Archive, and to the prerecorded music he adds original, acoustic touches. This is a dialogue between past and present, memory and action, grisly, strange, and compelling.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3328528751/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=1931696979/transparent=true/

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Personal Best—Music for Every Week

  • Adoption Tapes: Walks on the Beach.
  • Aidan Baker: Ecpliptic Plane.
  • SONAR: Black Light.
  • High aura’d & Mike Shiflet: Awake.
  • Lucia Roberts: I’m Just Dreaming.
  • Chris Pitsiokos Trio: Gordian Twine.
  • Craw: 1993-1997.
  • Kristoffer Oustad: Filth Haven.
  • Kate Carr, I had myself a nuclear spring.
  • Makaya McCraven: In the Moment.
  • Stephan Mathieu: Before Nostromo.
  • David Torn: Only Sky.
  • Steve Roach: Skeleton Keys.
  • Anouar Brahem: Souvenance.
  • Patrick Higgins: Bachanalia.
  • Steve M. Miller: Between Noise and Silence.
  • Tim Coster: Where to Be – Vol. 1.
  • Various Artists: Excavated Shellac: Reeds.
  • Laddio Bolocko: Live and Unreleased 1997-2000.
  • Andrew Weathers Ensemble: Fuck Everybody, You Can Do Anything.
  • Premature Burial: The Conjuring.
  • William Ryan Fritch: Revisionist.
  • Maxfield Gast: Ogopogo.
  • Wume: Maintain.
  • Dommengang: Everybody’s Boogie.
  • Kreasi Gong Kebyar: ASTI-Denpassar-Bali.
  • pjs: Harvest.
  • Head Dress: Recordings for Ensoniq Fizmo Vol. 1.
  • Boduf Songs: Stench of Exist.
  • Bill Seaman: f (noir).
  • Rafael Anton Irissari: A Fragile Geography.
  • 300 Basses: Tria Atoma.
  • BOAN: Mentiras.
  • Kim Cass: Kim Cass.
  • Andrew Bernstein: Cult Appeal.
  • William Basinksi & Richard Chartier: Divertissement.
  • Josh Mason: Alone in the Kingdom.
  • Mogador: Overflow Pool.
  • Schnellertollermeier: X.
  • The Sebastians: Night Scenes from the Ospedale.

 

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Winter Was Hard

Looking up from the endless chill and gloom of this past winter, I see that it’s been four weeks since I last posted here. Mea culpa.

I had been using weekly playlists as a shorthand way of producing implicit reviews, but even those fell by the wayside under an unexpected rush of writing assignments and adjusting to a new editorial deadline at the Brooklyn Rail. Still, the ears were open, and I’ve been able to put together a best-of-the-season list, the top new releases (or pending spring releases), that hit my stereo or computer from December 21 of last year to this past March 21 (items in bold are the best of each unranked category)

####Hors des categories####

####Jazz####

####Classical Pre-WWII Tradition####


* C.P.E. Bach Edition
* Capella Amsterdam, Estonian Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Caroly Sampson, Poulenc: Stabat Mater
* Ensemble Resonanz, Jean-Guihen Queyras,Berg: Lyrische Suite
* Jerusalem Quartet: Smetana & Janacek: String Quartets
* Kristian Bezuidenhout, Mozart: Keyboard Music Vols. 5 & 6
* Mattias Goerne & Helmut Deutsch, Schubert: Wanderers Nachtlied
* Simone Dinnerstein, Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias
* Nils Bultmann, Troubadour Blue
* Orli Shaham, American Grace: Piano Music by Steven Mackey and John Adams
* Michael Hersch, images from a closed ward
* LA Opera, James Conlon, Franz Schreker: Die Gezeichneten
* Ursula Oppens/Robert Levin, Bernard Rands: Piano Music 1960 – 2000*
* Leif Ove Andsnes, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, The Beethoven Journey: Piano Concertos 2 & 4

####Classical Post-WWII Tradition####


* Ten Holt: Canto Ostinato XL
* David T. Little, Haunt of the Last Nightfall
* JACK Quartet, Helmut Lachenmann, Complete String Quartets
* Rumori all Rotonda: Cage, Feldman, Hidalgo, La Rosa, Marchetti
* Matthew Barnson, Sibyl Tones
* Jovita Zahl, John Cage, The Works for Piano 9
* John Zorn, The Alchemist
* Bruno Maderna, Music in Two Dimensions: The Works With Flute
* Keeril Makan, Afterglow
* Aleck Karis, Webern, Wolpe & Feldman

Best Music 2012: Outside-The-Lines

There are times when you put a CD into your computer to rip it into iTunes, and it shows up in your library as the genre Unclassifiable. The databases behind iTunes are pop oriented so they’re easily confused by something that might need an artist and a composer in the tables. But there are times when the music has a slippery style, with familiar elements but a quality that can’t be succinctly pinned down. That’s when music is often at its best.

Genre categories are both meaningless and useful: they tell us little about the music but give us a way to frame the idiom. This is a list of music from this year that I think is great but that doesn’t either fall into the large categories of jazz and classical. There are familiar pop styles, and it’s something like the “beyond’ category that downbeat magazine has us critics vote on. In my case, this is music that I tend to listen to with broadly similar ears, with the expectation that there’s going to be the type of direct, physical impact that is an essential part of good rock music.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thbicibl-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B008DWFZOI 1. Tin Hat, the rain is handsome animal. The artists formally known as the Tin Hat Trio, augmented with great Bay Area clarinetist Ben Goldberg, have put out a record of songs (with instrumental interludes) that set poetry of e.e. cummings. The poet’s work has been popular with twentieth century composers, including John Cage, Ned Rorem, Leanord Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Luciano Berio; a formidable group of and an equally formidable body of work. It may initially seem unfair to add this record to that company, but I’m sure the legacy of those composers will survive, because these are the finest settings of cummings I have ever heard. This is a record of vernacular art songs, a rare combination of coherent poetic abstraction, musical lyricism and a physically pleasing and exciting sound. Any reader not familiar with Tin Hat should not imagine the music as stiff and structurally complex. These are songs in the pop sense but with the highest musical and intellectual sophistication: counterpoint, swinging tango rhythms, hot solos and plangent emotionalism. Smart, strong and often deeply beautiful, especially “Buffalo Bill,” which has the power of a rock anthem, with Carla Khilstedt singing from new heights of richness and confidence. Not only the top recording on this list, but the best recording I heard of any kind in 2012, bar none. Fantastic in every way.

2. The Crooked Jades, Bright Land. A very close second. One of the finest bands in the country, their new record is on the same high level as 2010’s exquisite Shining Darkness. Bluegrass of a very free style, with more than a little post-punk rockabilliy, the band makes music that carves out paths to the future, which is sorely needed in a landscape of indie-groups enthralled by a mythical past of ‘authentic’ white roots music. Bluegrass itself is a synthetic style that was created in the middle of the last century, and that is the true roots of American musical culture, creating something out of nothing other than the confidence that anything is permitted. By writing their own material and seeking to discover the things that might be possible, Compared to the wan ‘lite’ beer of their idiomatic peers, Wilco, this band is fine, high-proof rye whisky with a dash of tabasco. One of the great American bands and an excellent record.

3. Elliot Sharp’s Terraplane, Sky Road Songs. Simply no drop-off in achievement with this modern blues record, which I admit is in this arbitrary spot to satisfy a vague notion of fairness, as Sharp has a record in my top ten jazz list and will have one in my top ten classical list as well. Modern in the same way that Bright Land is modern: music that has a foundation of a familiar, even clichéd style. but is made by terrific musicians who also know how to play, and love, rock and jazz and funk and punk and even experimental music. The music has Sharp’s rare balance of muscular power, wit, love and irreverence and absolute clarity. There’s a great, satisfying swagger to the playing, a lot of it coming from Tracie Morris’ hard-edged vocals. Excellent as well.

4. Iron Dog, Interactive Album Rock. This trios’ previous record, field recordings 1, showed up unbidden in my mailbox a year or so ago. That this is the first I’ve written about it is because of how unusual and strong it is, and the excellent of the new disc has confirmed and clarified my initial response. This is an improvising group, with Sarah Bernstein playing violin and singing, Stuart Popejoy on bass guitar and Andrew Drury at the drums. They play with a specific kind of freedom, unchained by pop and even jazz notions of melody, harmony and phrasing, but their is a structural and sonic focus, a point, to every sound they make, and that point usually goes straight for the gut. It’s clear they listen closely to each other and think both quickly and imaginatively, and it’s also clear that they absolutely know what they are doing and what they indeed, there’s no existential angst. But this is all fancy talk, you have to hear this for yourself, because the music they make is a platonic ideal of experimentalism and punk-rock attitude. They start where Sonic Youth leaves off, and actually they start far beyond where Sonic Youth leaves off. Some of the most exciting and accessible abstract music you’ll find.

5. Neneh Cherry and The Thing, Cherrything. A close companion in a way to Interactive Album Rock, further proof that avant-garde jazz musicians (see: Don Cherry, Lester Bowie, Conjure) make the best pop music. A set of mostly covers that put the originals to shame: there is literally no comparison between the electronically overproduced pop and the gutty, sweaty, swaggering, sexual swagger of Neneh and the raunchy, raucous funk of The Thing. A dangerous record for dangerous times that are normally inundated with the safest kind of faux-transgressive pop.

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6. Public Image Limited, This is PiL. My feelings about this great new PiL record are much like the ones above, just replace the sex with a deep and necessary irreverence for the faddish musical consumer product that is the commercial arm of the ruling Establishment class. Music for those disaffected but still with hope and determination, tinged with adult loss and regret, built on that classic heavy beat.

7. Luce Trio, Pieces, Volume 1. John Potter’s Downland Project CDs have always beguiled and frustrated me. I love the tradition of idiomatic improvisation, and the possibility of approaching Dowland’s songs as if they are ‘tunes,’ with a fine singer and musicians who can do creative things within the possibilities of Elizabethan forms, yet with a modern sensibility, hints at a new universe of music-making. The results are constantly disappointing, though, as Potter, Barry Guy and the rest end up indulging in little more than atmospherics — they sound like a band that’s faking it. The Luce Trio is not faking it. This seemingly modest record is a real accomplishment, and the difference is that this group understands the music they are playing, whether it’s Bach or John De Lucia’s originals, and they maintain a clear musical focus. The players are secure in their idiomatic styles and say things that are surprising and make sense. Instead of wallowing in an infantile enthrallment to Bach, they make Bach new.

8. Maya Duneitz, John Edwards, Steven Noble, Cousin It. An appropriate bookend to the Iron Dog Interactive, this is another disc of refreshing, surprising improvisation. Acoustic where the other is heavily electric, and with a quiet and impish sense of subversion as opposed to aggressive iconoclasm. It sneaks up on you quickly and grabs your attention with it’s spaciousness, focus and wit. Admirable in every way.

9. William Brittelle, Loving the Chambered Nautilus. You can call this contemporary classical music, and you would be right, but I like this disc a lot, and I like it on this list even more because Brittelle is so interested in, and successful at, setting up the context of a formal and stylistic convention for his work and then demolishing that context before he gets to the final bars. Full of life, intelligence and questions, it’s out-of-the-ordinary music. And there’s a good song too.

10. Tim Hecker/Daniel Lopatin, Instrumental Tourist. A given for fans of both these musicians — and I’m a fan — this is a wonderful record of electronic music. The structures and abstract and without beats, but full of pulsations and physically palpable sounds. Each is an accomplished solo artist already, and they each bring a particular quality to this collaboration beyond their distinctive sonic signatures: Lopatin adds the plangent melancholy, and Hecker the sensation that the sounds begin in your brain-stem and explode, slowly, outward.

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