Time feels like it’s moving so fast this year, yet it also continues to feel warped and mangled, like I’m floating rather than driving. As time progresses, places start to open back up and I start to leave my apartment. Tentatively. There’s this joy I have that things like live music, which was a huge part of my life before the pandemic, is back. It’s not the same, though—crowds feel strange and scary, moving about feels more exhausting than they did before. But I feel hopeful, and that’s one thing to be happy about.
Here are 11 releases that got me through the bleak days of February. Happy listening!
Laura Cocks, field anatomies (Carrier Records)
New York-based flutist Laura Cocks sought to explore new sonic palettes on their instrument, and its physicality, when collaborating with the five composers who wrote new pieces for field anatomies. Throughout the album, the flute often sounds far away from its conventionally brilliant tones. Instead, Cocks and the composers explore breathiness and frenetic flutters, chaotic runs, and darting electronic pulses. The result is a three-dimensional sound that focuses on expanding our imagination of what it means to play and listen to the flute. (Read the full review here.)
Joy Guidry, Radical Acceptance (Whited Sepulchre)
On Radical Acceptance, New York-based bassoonist Joy Guidry presents contemplative music that explores their path to accepting and ultimately celebrating their identity. The album switches between contemplative electronic tracks and explosive free jazz combos, using each soundscape as a way to weave through their winding road towards self love. Both sounds succeed across the album, allowing for a flexible ebb and flow between soft and harsh, staid and in-motion, until moments of resolution arrive.
Eva-Maria Houben, together on the way (another timbre)
together on the way drifts in quietude, a distant drone that provides a backdrop for glacial motion. There isn’t much of a pulse, but there also isn’t stasis: In composer Eva-Maria Houben’s attention to gradual details that layer on top of long-held tones, there’s a sense of forward motion. She’s known for her works, much of them composed for piano, that explore decaying tones and close listening; here, those tenets come to life in slow motion. The 67-minute work is performed by piano-percussion duo GBSR, who bring patience to every rounded tone, care to every minute shift, illuminating Houben’s understated, yet transformative vision.
Nyokabi Kariūki, peace places: kenyan memories [EP] (SA Recordings)
Nyokabi Kariūki began composing the field recording-based works on peace places: kenyan memories during the pandemic, when she was living in New York and Maryland—far away from her home in Kenya. Each of the pieces she presents here explore a different “peace place” from her home, weaving home recordings from places like her grandmother’s farm into drifting vocals and billowy electronic melodies that balance dissonance and with consonance. Every track is a little celebration, bringing the feeling of home just a little closer.
Dana Lyn, A Point On a Slow Curve (Circle Records)
Composer-violinist Dana Lyn discovered a monumental painting by Jay DeFeo called The Rose eight years ago and immediately became fascinated with its story. DeFeo committed eight years to this 12.7 x 8 foot painting, whose sole requirement was to have a center. Lyn then set out to respond to this work—and DeFeo’s work ethic, attitude, and commitment to her artistic voice—in a similarly epic musical project, A Point on a Slow Curve. The album combines a jazz ensemble, classical strings, and choral voices; the music continuously mixes and flips between genres and styles, highlighting moments of frenetic free improvisation, musical theater-like storytelling, and lush instrumental melodies. Like DeFeo’s art, Lyn’s music spirals outward, ever-expanding from its center.
Jamie Monck, dark is a way i (Self-released)
Over the past two years, Kentucky-based guitarist Jamie Monck commissioned new compositions for electric guitar and electronics. The project, titled dark is a way, highlights each composer’s voice and explores a range of possible sonic landscapes for this instrumentation. The first release, dark is a way i, showcases two new works by yaz lancaster and Cassie Wieland*. Lancaster’s “everything cut down” moves in stilted sections, building up from gritty strums into reverberant echoes; Wieland’s “so what have you been up to” hangs in a wafting, still atmosphere shrouded in delicate fuzz. Monck plays both with ease, letting the guitar sound like whatever it wants to be. *Note from the author: Cassie Wieland is a good friend of mine.
Gavilán Rayna Russom, Trans Feminist Symphonic Music (Longform Editions)
Throughout Trans Feminist Symphonic Music, New York-based interdisciplinary artist Gavilán Rayna Russom uses difference tones to meditate on the idea of gender, aiming to illustrate gender fluidity and to show how music can be a means of disintegrating the gender binary. The hour-long piece flows through repeating, beating melodies and imagined resonances, letting each rhythm seep into the next. Russom’s concepts come through in the music’s simultaneous effervescence and detail, forever moving forward, gaining ground in a lattice of possibility.
Bekah Simms, Ghost Songs [EP] (people | places | records)
On Ghost Songs, Toronto-based composer Bekah Simms presents four works that showcase her ability to create three-dimensional soundscapes that stem from the feeling of nervousness. The first three works on the EP come from her Skinscape series, which highlights interplay between a solo instrument and electronics and feature gritty melodies spit back in loops and echoes, growing from tension into skittering, full-bodied atmospheres. The final track takes a different approach, centering a wavering drone, but each moment on the album balances tension with an open quest for exploration.
This album is for all the string-based chamber music fans. Violinist Jeff Gauthier and cellist Maggie Parkins are The Smudges. On Song and Call, they feature compositions by their friends Guy Kucevsek and Tom Flaherty, as well as Gauthier and a couple duo improvisations. Much of the album channels a folksy flair and the peppy, dance-oriented spirit of classical era chamber music, but sometimes they stray into haunted, dissonant atmospheres marked by desolate electronics and reverberant strings. In this balance of sonic palettes, the duo showcases their skill in both structured and free music.
Various Artists, excuse the mess vol. 1 & 2 (Hidden Notes Records)
These two volumes compile pieces composed on the excuse the mess podcast: The rules on the podcast are that you compose a piece in a day with electronic musician and composer Ben Corrigan. You don’t prepare for it, you just…do it. So, as you can imagine, the music on both of these volumes is quite varied in sound and instrumentation, ranging from drifting ambient tracks to groovy dance hall beats, with different instrumentation each time. They’re all short—little snippets into the compositional world of every featured artist—and their beauty lies in their creative spark.