Bit of a miserable year, 2021. Lots of enthralling music and new sounds, mind you. Worth focusing on that for a moment.

Each of the following grabbed me hard on first listen and didn’t let go. Maybe the best way to put it is that, for me, each of these releases has their own ‘personality’, something distinct and separate, some unique flavour. These are the albums – from free jazz to distortion overload to sonic seance to alien worlds to the plain odd and unlabel-able – that I reckon I’ll still be listening to this time next year…

Národní Divadlo
(Stoned to Death)

“Chaos and excess ebb and flow. Natural cycles of change are fractured, interrupted. A sense of imminent-but-never-quite collapse looms. Sonic tightrope stuff.” Full review here.

Hali Palombo
“Cylinder Loops”
(Astral Editions)

“…repetition, evocative circling fragments of song (from the eerie to the downright jaunty), with the distortion, hiss and crackle of the recording medium itself used as a compositional element. ” Full review here.

Espen Lund

“…straight to the dark heart of excess, birthing what could be called a Tony Conrad-inspired improvised black metal/drone/noise suite that draws solely on the sound of an instrument pushed beyond its limits.” Full review here.

Catherine Sikora

A series of concerts for one, absorbing, pushing against and playing off the natural reverb found at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The word ‘sublime’ may be overused these days but it fits.

Aurelijus Užameckis
(CRRNT Records)

Solo double bass recorded inside the Brønshøj water tower in Copenhagen. Just hugely immersive. (And with the albums by Catherine Sikora and Espen Lund, this completes a kind of thematic trio: solo performances using the environment as a duet partner – reverb from the physical structure for Sikora and Užameckis, an artificial wall of feedback for Lund.)

Ruth Goller
(Vula Viel Records)

The bass harmonics and vocals are quite transcendental. For me, the soundworld stands alone and unique in this year’s releases. It’s also often much spikier than it seems underneath all the gorgeousness.

Tholos Gateway
“Tholos Gateway”
(Gusstaff Records)

Honestly not sure how to describe this… it drones, it dooms, it ambients (does it prog? yes, I think it progs a little)… it’s either a delicate kind of heavy or a very heavy kind of delicacy. The closer you listen, the more you descend…

Han-earl Park
“Of Life, Recombinant”
(New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings)

Han-earl Park digs deep into techniques and sounds and presents a fresh palette for the guitar. Pyrotechnics abound, but not in any kind of traditional sense.

United Color of Black Metal
(Kythibong Records)

“For all the alien effect, there’s a warmth to the sound, an organic quality that insinuates painlessly and irrevocably into the auditory cortex to be endlessly interpreted.” Full review here.

Patrick Shiroishi
(American Dreams)

Shiroishi seems to dig deepest, produce his richest sounds, when focused on the Japanese-American experience – in this case, his grandfather after the WWII internment camps. Not surprising, perhaps, but lucky us listening to this intense and personal music.

Andrew Woodhead

Improvising horns & reeds, beautifully mixed with electronics, field recordings and church bells to entrancing effect.

Two or The Dragon
“Dance Grooves For The Weary”
(Ruptured Records)

“…brutally stirring, visceral, overwhelmingly emotional and whether you call it ‘dance music’ or not, your body will want to move.. ” Full review here.

Nick Didkovsky & Tom Marsan
(Punos Music)

“…another deep draught from the fountain of eternal guitar-love… CHORD IV is… banshee feedback wails on one side with buzzing chopped rhythms giving form to the other.” Full review here.

Mong Tong 夢東
“台灣謎景 Music from Taiwan Mystery”
(WV Sorcerer Productions 巫唱片)

Guitar and synth (I think!) mixed up with video game sounds, Asian movie samples, field recordings… just beautifully and weirdly psychedelic.

Rachel Langlais

Solo piano. A manual rhythm machine. Fragments loop and rise. Hypnotic and transporting…

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