END OF THE YEAR LISTS: BEST ROCK OF 2018 (CHART + PLAYLIST)

Rock never disappoints. It may seem like a miracle that in the age of trap and Autotune we can still enjoy beautiful records of pure and healthy rock and roll, but that’s fortunately the case. This year, in particular, we had so many good albums that I felt the need to extend the list to the best fifteen records instead of the classical Top Ten chart. Nonetheless, in the end there were still a number of good LPs that didn’t enter the chart, and I had to mention them in a small appendix that you can find at the bottom of this long article.

There is so much good music in this post that it makes no sense to waste your time with other introductory notes. Before you jump into the list, however, let me just say that there’s now a special playlist on Spotify where I have put together all the best songs from the albums that are presented in this article: 40 songs in total, for more than two hours and thirty minutes of exciting music.

Enjoy the reading, listen to the music, and spread the word!



#15) Alien Sex Fiend, “Possessed”

(Gothic Rock / Deathrock)
Alien Sex Fiend are an English gothic rock band, formed in London, England in 1982. The current lineup of the band consists of Nik Fiend and Mrs. Fiend.

Visionary and experimental music, when it brings inside the spark of innovation, becomes a timeless work of art and, consequently, it’s always actual and contemporary. It’s now more than 35 years than Nik Fiend and Mrs. Fiend started playing their unique recipe of dark and industrial gothic rock under the name of Alien Sex Fiend, but the music of their last album is still fresh and communicative as few other things that we’ve heard this year. Possessed, their new LP, arrived eight years after their previous publication, but we’re evidently in the presence of that special and precious category of artists who enter the recording studio only when they have 
in their hands first-class material to manipulate.

For those who aren’t familiar with the music of Alien Sex Fiend, we’re talking about a band that has published so far something like 13 studio LPs, 6 live records, and that have been included in more than fifteen compilations. Surely their fame reached its peak back in the 80s, but their influence is still present in modern music through many followers.

It was about 25 years ago when Alien Sex Fiend has definitely taken the shape of a duo, but today Possessed still features all the basic elements of their particular approach to gothic rock. The new album, in particular, shows a special attention of the two musicians towards obsessive rhythms and hypnotic repetitions. The simplicity but the effectiveness of the rhythmic component is probably the aspect that impressed me the most in their new LP. In many parts of the album you feel like being in a dark and isolated hall of a disco pub, with pulses and beats arriving muffled by layers of walls, while disturbing sounds, distorted guitars and pieces of phrases fill the space around you. Something like a discomforting nightmare that however has something absolutely fascinating.

In short: that’s an impressive and brilliant collection of music that proves once more how true class never ages. Not suitable for all tastes, but absolutely unique and intriguing.



#14) Modern Space, “Flip for It”

(Indie Rock / Alt Rock)
Modern Space is a five piece band out of Toronto, Canada. They play fast, fun, energetic indie alternative rock.

The world of indie rock is characterized by talented bands who struggle to find the limelight and other formations, much more fortunate, that are able, or lucky, to intercept the magic mixture of creativity and taste for the melody that meets the taste of large masses of listeners. Modern Space, from Canada, seem to belong to this second group of bands if we consider that in the relatively short time span of only 4 years they have already gained a good recognition both in their Country and abroad.

Their style may be described as a light and melodic version of indie with influences from alternative rock: one of the most immediate references for their sound is given by The Strokes, from which they managed to imitate the ability to compose sticky, catchy and “pop banging” riffs and choruses.

Modern Space’s new album, called Flip For It, offers an absolutely enjoyable collection of songs that are made to dance, to have fun outside or to shake your head while driving the car. This is “cheerful rock and roll”, without any desire to reach particular depths of expression or to use the music for transmitting any universal message. But when the premises are so clear and the music is so catchy, you can easily forget to search for any element of innovation, even because the absence of any tangible deviation from the canons doesn’t mean that the music of Modern Space is flat and anonymous. On the contrary, the band shows an impressive ability to vary rhythms, melodies and themes among the different songs of the LP, whilst maintaining the same level of enjoyability and catchyness across the whole record. And sometimes is definitely healthy and liberating to leave aside all the complicated things and indulge in pure and simple catchy rock.



#13) Basement, “Beside Myself”

(Alt Rock / Melodic Hardcore)
Basement are an English rock band formed in 2009 in Ipswich, Suffolk, England. They have released to date four full-lenght LPs.

In the last ten years, British rock band Basement has gained increased attention for having released a bunch of interesting records, and it’s no secret that these guys candidated themselves to become the European representatives of that kind of melodic rock that is played by many famous formations on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. This is why the announcement of a new album by the band, on August 2018, was received with great attention. And when their new LP, named Beside Myself, was released on last October, all the expectations were definitely confirmed.

One of the elements that has been always remarkable in Basement’s music is the brilliant balance that they manage to keep between anger and melancholy. This characteristic seems further enhanced in their new work and in fact most of the songs result at the same time energetic and deeply intimate. The rhythms are generally high and the songs are short and compact: you won’t find in their songs any accessory element that’s been introduced for the sake of prolonging the running time. Incipit, melodic section, catchy riff with anthemic chorus, bridge, and conclusion. Nothing more than that, but extremely effective and enjoyable to hear.

Beside Myself signs also the passage of the band to a major record label. With their new LP, Basement have left formally the world of independent music and this has certainly given more brilliance to their work, making every individual song of the new record a sort of masterpieces of “communicative effectiveness”. Probably something has been lost in terms of originality and spirit of experimentation, but the overall balance, in my opionion, is positive. Many years and tours have passed from their impressive first two albums (2011′ I Wish I Could Stay Here and 2012’s Colourmeinkindness) and today, as a matter of fact, these guys look for confirmations rather than surprises.



#12) Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, “Hope Downs”

(Indie Rock)
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (often summarized as RBCF) is an Australian indie rock band, formed in Melbourne in 2013. After two EPs they have published in 2018 their first full-lenght studio LP.

After a couple of really interesting EPs, Australian indie rock band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever arrived this year to the release of their first LP, named Hope Downs, which is an extremely promising work from the Melbourne quintet. The release notes say that many of the band members had played so far in a number of local garage and rock bands, garning a relatively good reputation in the Australian underground scene. And it’s not by chance, therefore, that Hope Downs shows a band which is fully aware of their possibilities and surprisingly (given their age) characterized by with a mature and well-defined musical style.

The genre of music played by RCBF is not particularly original or innovative, but the band has undoubtedly the gift of knowing how to instill interest and enjoyability in all of their songs. The tracks of Hope Downs arrive one after the other like a single flow of simple but effective indie rock tunes. There are no avant-garde ambitions in their music, rather we enjoy a solid collection of genuine and catchy songs, with the minimum necessary quantity of distortions to get the interest of indie music fans, but which never result so heavy and introspective to keep away the casual listener.

Many have compared RCBF to a softer and more commercial version of the early years of R.E.M., and the comparison if far from being wrong. These guys, however, seem to have all what’s necessary to develop and consolidate a style of music that won’t require, in the future, too many comparisons with the sacred monsters of rock.



#11) Alkaline Trio, “Is This Thing Cursed?”

(Punk Rock)
Alkaline Trio (sometimes abbreviated in Alk3) is an American rock band from McHenry, Illinois. Formed in 1996, they have released so far nine full-lenght records.

With the exception of a few but still relevant cases, traditionally American punk bands have always favored the melodic and popular aspects of this genre of music compared to the more controversial and rebellious ones. In this context the American rock band Alkaline Trio, from Illinois, represents another important member of that large family of bands which have contributed to the success of the so called “pop-punk”, a special version of rock that has become universally known mostly thanks to bands like Green Day and Blink-182.

Alkaline Trio’s last album, named Is This Thing Cursed?, is the ninth of their discography and it interrupts a five-year gap since their previous studio LP. The first impact of the album is absolutely positive if you like glossy rock with catchy choruses, and in this respect the new material is definitely reminiscent of what the band has done in the last twenty years, which is definitely a good thing if you don’t look for innovation but you just look for a new collection of good pop-punk melodic rock songs.

Anyway, when the recipe is simple and the ingredients are always the same, finding the way to compose and offer another set of exciting songs requires  a big dose of creative skills and inspiration, something that the American band has never struggled to find. In this respect, the collateral experiences that some of the members of the band have tried in the last few years may have contributed to give new life to their creative vein. But whatever the reason, the only thing that matters is that the Alkaline guys are back on track, with the same feeling and energy of the past.



#10) Audrey Horne, “Blackout”

(Hard Rock / Heavy Metal)
Audrey Horne is a hard rock band from Bergen, Norway. The band took its name from Sherilyn Fenn’s character in the cult TV series Twin Peaks.

Norwegian band Audrey Horne is one of those formations that have clearly established what their models are, what music they want to play, and they just continue to refine and improve their style album after album. With their last LP, named Blackout, they arrived to the remarkable result of six albums in thirtheen years of career, all of them dedicated to carrying forward the banner of their special style of hard rock.

The music played by Audrey Horne is deeply rooted into the legacy of 70s classic rock, enriched with the insertion of melodic elements of heavy-metal derivation. The songs are generally enjoyable and also extremely accessible, plenty of anthemic choruses, catchy riffs and triumphant guitars. There’s nothing original and innovative in Blackout, but for those looking for a good and healty dose of rocking energy the album gives absolutely satisfaction. It’s really like being in a rock’n’roll party: at some point it’s no longer important if you’re listening to trendy and modern music or rather old-school heavy rock, what really matters is the pulsating rhythm in your head and the electricity that runs through your veins.

Sometimes it’s nice to let ourselves be carried away by such retro music as Audrey Horne’s. We can forget that we have grown up, that our kids polarize our spare time and that there are a couple of bills on the table that must be still paid. In these moments, if there’s the right song and we close our eyes, we may find ourselves running again with our small cars along the streets of the city, at night, with rock music playing loud from our low-fi stereo systems and the wind blowing our hairs.



#9) Cancer Bats, “The Spark That Moves”

(Hardcore Punk)
Cancer Bats are a Canadian hardcore punk band from Toronto, Ontario. They are active since 2003 and have released six studio albums.

The heaviest entry of this chart is one of those album which lays on the thin border between rock and metal. The spirit with which it was recorded and published, however, is definitely “rock” and that’s is one of the reasons why, in the end, the LP by Cancer Bats has found its place in this chart. The Spark That Moves arrived absolutely by surprise and without any warning on April 2018; the band later explained that they were tired of waiting and decided at one point to drop the LP all at once, deliberatly choosing to skip the traditional lead ups and teaser singles.

Cancer Bats are a well-known Canadian band that have achieved a certain notoriety during the last fifteen years thanks to their intriguing and effective mix of hardcore punk and crossover. Since the beginning of their career the group has released their LPs with a good regularity and in 2018, three years from the previous album, they released the sixth record of their interesting discography.

Cancer Bats owe much of their success to the particular style of music that they managed to craft and refine with the years, which consists of a base of hardcore enriched with many elements of southern rock and metalcore. The band, however, has always shown the ability and the willingness to evolve their sound and keep it fresh at each stage of their career. In this respect, one of the key elements of The Spark That Moves is how it’s founded on vast and caried catalogue of musical expressions and the songs, although marked by and equal and impressive level of sonic violence, result so varied and also different one from the other that the experience of going through the record in one single shot is definitely rewarding and exciting.

The music of Cancer Bats doesn’t want to be cool or trendy and it’s not surprising that their videos show random people eating pizza or cars drifting in the snow. But the beauty and violence of their riffs is so genuine and visceral that their songs never disappoint.



#8) Ash, “Islands”

(Indie Rock / Pop Rock)
Ash are a Northern Irish rock band, formed in Downpatrick in 1992. They have released so far eight full-lenght studio albums.

Northern Irish band Ash has been around for over 25 years in the world of rock. Between highs and lows, the band has released so far 8 full-lenght albums spanning through alternative, punk and britpop (even if the band, for obvious reasons, han never felt comfortable with this last association). Their last LP, Islands, aims without any hesitation towards the direction of an easy to listen version of indie rock, enriched here and there by splashes of pop music.

Beyond the relative and physiological variations of style from album to album, however, in its essence their music has been extremely consistent across their releases: quick-setting and catchy rock and roll. Accordingly, Ash’s new work features a new enjoyable collection of songs that are extremely engaging and funny to listen to.

If their sound is substantially a consolidation of what we heard from them to date, there are also a few elements of innovation that allow their music to remain sufficiently modern and appreciable. Compared to their previous works, today the band lingers a little more on intimate and introspective pieces, but we still have in the LP a good handful of those ferocious and happy songs from which we can extract our daily dose of rock energy.



#7) Tonight Alive, “Underworld”

(Alt Rock / Pop Rock)
Tonight Alive is an Australian rock band from Sydney, Australia. In January 2018 Tonight Alive have releases their fourth LP, “Underworld”

Remained only four members after that guitarist Whakaio Taahi quit on October 2’17, the Australians alternative rockers Tonight Alive went quickly back to the studio to compose and publish a new LP, Underworld. The new album follows the three previous good records that the band from Sidney released since their formation, approximately ten years ago. And despite it was published at the very beginning of the year, Underworld has resisted many fierce contenders and it eventually maintained his position within the best rock records of 2018.

The music played by Tonight Alive demonstrates that it’s absolutely possible to play simple and catchy rock, which may still result exciting and interesting. The songs of Underworld are in fact clearly oriented to mainstream radio and big audiences, but without necessarily having to compromise the quality of the songs.

From a musical point of view, because of their style of music Tonight Alive have been often compared to tAmerican pop-rock band Paramore, although with their latest works the Australian band has tried, and somehow succeeded, to develop their own and unique sound. This is particulary evident from the relevant use of the electronic inserts, which have acquired an important role in the development of Tonight Alive’s new songs.

The presence of this record in the final chart at the end of the year thus testifies that alongside conceptual and articulated albums, occasionally it is absolutely healthy to launch in the music player a sequence of easygoing, direct and energetic songs like those offered today by Tonight Alive, provided that the quality of the music is of the same level of the adrenaline that you want to get trhough it.



#6) Titus Andronicus, “A Productive Cough”

(Folk Rock, Indie Rock)
Singer and guitarist Patrick Stickles, leader and founder of American indie rock band Titus Andronicus. Since their formation in 2005, the band has released 5 LPs.

There are times when you need to change, restarting from the scratch. For indie rock band Titus Andronicus this moment coincided with the writing and publication of their fifth studio album, A Productive Cough. Started as an irriverent, raw and genuine punk rock act, Patrick Stickles has guided his band through many different areas of the indie rock world and today, after the last sharp turn, they started playing what we could actually define as folk-rock or “bar-room rock”, as it was also said by someone. The rusult, however, is extremely good.

A Productive Cough reminds us how beautiful are folk acoustic ballads, and how exciting is pure and simple rock music, without too many embellishments or refinements. Two guitars, one bass, drums, simple and cantabile melodies, nice and catchy choruses inspired by popular and street music. This music was stripped down of all that’s superfluous and brought back to its primordial significance: an element of communion and sharing of emotions among different people.

The abum never exceeds in any direction: seven songs – one is a Bob Dylan’s cover – for a little more than 45 minutes of total duration. Fast, simple, essential to the bone, and extremely enjoyable to listen in many different occasions.

On the other hand it’s clear that an album like A Productive Cough can’t leave everyone equally convinced, especially those who were expecting a much more complex and articulated record. But the fans of the band know that beyond the punk and rough surface of their music, Titus Andronicus have always concealed a second level of interpretation. Today, with their new album, they have clearly decided to take a beneficial break and abandom themselves to the desire of playing music and give emotions in the most direct way possible, like a rolling stone.



#5) Jeff Rosenstock, “POST-“

(Punk Rock / Indie Rock)
Jeff Rosenstock  is an American musician and songwriter from Long Island, United States. He was the lead singer of the ska punk band The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, the musical collective Bomb the Music Industry! and the indie rock band Kudrow. After the breakup of Bomb the Music Industry!, he began a solo career.

Let’s start with a recommendation: if you have never listened to POST-, which is the latest album by American rocker Jeff Rosenstock, you should go immediately to the album’s bandcamp page and download it for free (or maybe make a donation). The album was in fact produced by Rosenstock’s free/donation-based digital label called Quote Unquote Records. Go and take it, and then come back here for the review.

Jeff Rosenstock is an american rocker from Long Island who’s playing punk since a couple of decades. He started singing in a few relatively influential local bands such as The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, Bomb the Music Industry!and Kudrow. After the breakup of Bomb the Music Industry!, in 2013, Rosenstock eventually embarked in a solo career and released to date three full-length albums. The last one, POST-, was published on January 1st, 2018 and – as arleady highlighted – it was made available for free download.

There could be many ways to describe Rosenstock’s music and his latest album. Surely we could start mentioning the punk roots of his sound and then continue with the description of the individual pieces. We could focus in particular on the track called USA, which is undoubtedly the most important and significantof the album, with its 7 and a half minutes of pure rage and despair. But what I will say, instead, is that POST- is an album full of contradictions, definitely not homogeneous, but really because of these inconsistencies it looks the best representation of the world in which we live today. It didn’t happen to me since a long time to listen to an album and feel like being a part of it. POST- is genuine, raw, contradictory, but this is music that speaks to you as a friend, with songs that become more engaging each time you listen to them.

There are highs and lows among the ten tracks of the record. The structure of the LP is also completely out of the standard: there are two masterpieces that open and close the album, which are also the longests tracks of the record. And in the middle we can enjoy an handful of quick and effective sketches of punk rock, flowing fluidly one after the other. Crazy? Brilliant? It’s up to you to decide, anyway it works.

I believe that the music produced by Jeff Rosenstock is the truest version of punk rock that is in circulation today. This is not the kind of street punk which tries to imitate the atmospheres of the 70s, and not even the ska-punk which has been so succesful in the last years. But this music speaks from the heart. Compliments.



#4) Starcrawler, “Starcrawler”

(Hard Rock)
Starcrawler is an American rock band formed in 2015. They have released their debut and self-titled LP in January 2018.

The moment I started to assemble this final chart for 2018 I realized that the very first positions were all occupied by famous groups with already many albums and many successes behind them. I was starting to worry about the fact that there were no emerging groups in the top positions, but then I rememberd of Starcrawler and their impressive debut album.

Starcrawler is a band of very young rockers from California who met and started playing music in High School. In an extremely short time – at least compared to what’s generally the case for every rock band – they managed to polarize the attention of fans, critics and even a number of old glories of rock of the caliber of Ryan Adams and Elthon John, who also contributed to promote their music. When a band reaches fame and attention in this explosive way there is always the risk that the musical aspect remains in the background. And in this case it would be really a shame because this self-title debut LP provides the listener with an impressive sequence of solid and exciting rock songs.

From a musical point of view, much of the beauty of the record comes from the natural way in which multiple influences were blended together to form something definitely new, and fresh. There is also a persistent flavour of garage rock that permeates the LP, and this provides a nice feeling of immediacy and roughness to many of the tracks of the album.

Coming back to the overall phenomenon that has been generated around Starcrawler, it’s evident that this kind of success can not be for pure chance. The turning point will be given by the forthcoming works. We will understand if the creativity and the special touch that these young rockers demonstrated in their debut album were only the result of a quick sparkling of fire or, on the contrary, they will become one of the most important rock groups of the next decades.



#3) Hot Snakes, “Jericho Sirens”

(Post Hardcore / Garage Rock / Indie Rock)
Guitarist and singer John Reis formed the Hot Snakes in 1999 in San Diego, California, together with guitarist Rick Froberg. The band released three albums between 2000 and 2004, and then a fourth LP in 2018.

There is a particular emotion every time we come across to the new album from a band that has spent so much time in silence. Jericho Sirens, the fourth and latest LP by Hot Snakes, arrives fourteen years after their previous release. And as only the exceptional records can do, the new album looks so strong and vigorous that it has really the capacity to excite both the old fans of the Californian band and also those new generation of listeners who just got in touch with the scratchy sounds of indie rock and post-hardcore.

The line-up of the band is basically the same of their early works, and this for sure helps. But what’s really remained unchanged is their rebellious spirit and also the musical creativity they manifest with their songs. To some extent one could feel that all the time which separates their two last records has passed – musically speaking – in a flash. And that’s for sure the result of all the effort and committment that the band has dedicated to the making of Jericho Sirens. Nothing here is improvised, there are no gap fillers and we don’t have the impression to be in front of a mere commercial operation. I feel here the genuine desire to switch on for one more time that spark of light that illuminated the rock scene during a few, but intense, years at the beginning of the new century.

The ten tracks of Jericho Sirens are strongly based on that intriguing mix of garage rock, post-hardcore and indie rock that the band consolidated with their first three albums. The rhythms are always sustained, John Reis and Rick Froberg hit hard on their guitars from the first to the last minute of the album. Such blast of energy, however, is not a barrage fire. The shots are chirurgical: all the instruments play strong and compact, the energy is directed in one single direction and the balance between dissonance and melody reaches in some passages the absolute perfection. As expected the lyrics are generally polemical and negative: the guys from San Diego are not here to tell us that life is easy and beautiful. But what we hear is not a cry of abandonment and despair, it is rather a scream of rage and disgust towards mediocrity, something that pushes you to react rather than to give up.

This is perhaps the secret of Hot Snakes: they have the ability to combine a genuine protest towards the system with a sharp, essential and effective musical assault, something which goes straight to the point without dispersing any beat with unnecessary nuances or music frills.



#2) Cloud Nothings, Last Building Burning

(Indie Rock / Post Hardcore)
Dylan Baldi is the singer, guitarist and leader of indie rock masters Cloud Nothings. The band started in 2009 as Baldi’s solo project but it soon became a full formation with other permanent members.

There are bands that represent the essence and the spirit of rock. Among these I surely include Cloud Nothings, the spectacular indie rock from Ohio. I follow this band with particular attention since their 2014 album, Here and Nowhere Else, and from then I’ve always felt a natural attraction for their music and I’ve literally fallen in love with many of the intense and profound songs they wrote. I’ve always found their approach to music as the perfect paradigm and synthesis of rock and roll in modern times. Their songs manifest the urgency of communicating something strong, and the musical language they’ve built in order to transmit their feelings is raw, immediate, dissonant and full of contradictions as is our life nowadays. No frills, no masks, a kind of music that is stripped of all what’s superfluous but that, in doing so, shows a monstrous and impressive substance. I feel that Cloud Nothings have achieved the perfect synthesis between the immediacy of punk, the aggressiveness of alternative rock, the melodies of power pop, the research and experimentation of avant-garde music, and the the angularities of noise rock. Their sound is the point where all these different ways of interpreting modern rock eventually meet together, and their albums are gifted by a sense of spontaneity and naturalness that makes everything alive and exciting.

Last Building Burning is the new LP released by Cloud Nothings, the fifth of their discography. The publication notes say that the album was recorded in only eight days in a studio located in a border town of Texas. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the album offers such intense feelings of immediacy and spontaneity. Don’t expect the balance and the crystalline perfection of those over-produced albums where clear sounds and catchy melodies are tuned and refined up to the smallest details. Instead, prepare yourself for rough sounds and a genuine flow of electric anger, with songs that point straight and without hesitations at the heart of music, at the essence of rock.

Last Building Burning is yet another great record by a fantastic band. The album has no false steps and every song is a little gem. There are of course some tracks that shine with a particular light of beauty. I can mention the song In Shame, perhaps the most melodic, fast and accessible song of the LP, one of those tracks that you want to listen again and again everytime it ends. On the other end of the music spectrum there is Dissolution, a song that produces in my mind the image of Dylan Baldi and his bandmates that are hitting hard on their instruments with rage, fury and passion, until at some point they find themselves blocked on a single note, a chord that they cannot leave for some magic spell, and they are unable to move forward into the song until the drums eventually arrive to wake them up and then, as a response, they embark on a three minutes psychedelic trip which results in one of the most exciting song finals that the band has ever composed to date.

In more general terms, if we compare Last Building Burning with the band’s more recent releases we see many confirmations and a few elements of difference. The confirmations mainly regard their general approach to music and songwriting, which includes the immediate and “urgent” style that I mentioned above. Among the differences we can highlight a more evident recourse to gloomy and disheartened tones, both for the music and the lyrics. But, in the end, this is just another evidence that their music doesn’t only reflect the current state of rock music, but the more general situation of our society.



BEST ROCK ALBUM OF 2018

Turbonegro, “Rocknroll Machine”

(Punk Rock / Hard Rock)
Turbonegro is a Norwegian rock band, initially active from 1989 to 1998, and then reformed in 2002. Their style combines glam rock, punk rock and hard rock into a style the band describes as, “deathpunk.”

Given the recent explosion of the rock and metal scene in the Scandinavian countries, today it may seem natural that among the best records that are coming out every year there are lots of bands from Sweden, Finland and Norway. Back in the 90’s, however, there was a relatively unique and exceptional case of a crazy band from Oslo, named Turbonegro, which got the attention of fans and critics with a series of incredible albums. Their style was so special and original that people had to coin a new name for it: “deathpunk”. Surprisingly, however, their fame remained limited to the underground world of punk rock and metal, without reaching that universal celebrity that they would have deserved. From a certain point of view, however, we could be selfishly grateful to the band for not achieving a larger success, because we know how strong can be the process of sterilization that typically occurs with mainstream music. Surely they weren’t facilitated by the exaggerated and extravagant image they gave to themselves, including the crazy titles of their albums. At least for this single aspect, however, the guys from Norway seem to have made some progress and in fact, today, instead of Ass Cobra or Hot Cars and Spent Contraceptives we see them out with a definitely more moderate name for an album: Rocknroll Machine.

Turbonegro’s new LP interrupts a period of silence of six years from their previous record. To be honest, when I became aware of their new publication I had initially mixed reactions. But from the first moment that Rocknroll Machine was launched through the speakers of my music system, I realized that all my concerns were totally unjustified. This is really one of the few bands that gives no attention to trends and fashions, and which still play a straight and genuine version of rock with no needs for additives or unnecessary elements of “modernity”.

Musically speaking, Rocknroll Machine is basic divided in two parts. The first half of the LP looks like a tribute to classic hard rock (think of AC DC), while the second group of songs is more reminescent of the signature “deathpunk” style that the band consolidated in their early years. In both the two sections, however, there is the same impressive charge of musical energy, direct and effective as only the best music can be. This is 
timeless rock and roll, with no frills, easygoing and high voltage. Just play it loudly and enjoy the 40 minutes ride.

But the question is: what’s the difference between a good record and the best rock album of the year? Easy: when you see your whole family (wife, teenage guy plus kid) singing the antemic choruses of a record every single time it runs on the stereo, the answer is there in front of you.



Other notable rock releases of 2018:

  • Tales from the Backseat, the debut studio album by Irish indie rock band The Academic
  • Cleave, the fifteenth studio album by Northern Irish alt rock legends Therapy?
  • [Untitled], the seventh studio album by American post hardcore band mewithoutYou
  • Always Ascending, the fifth studio album by Scottish indie rock band Franz Ferdinand
  • Master Volume, the second studio album by Canadian punk rock band The Dirty Nil
  • Snares Like a Haircut, the fourth studio album by American noise rock duo No Age
  • The Free Life, the third studio album by English hard rock band Turbowolf
  • Peace and Love, the ninth studio album by American punk band Swingin’ Utters
  • Reiði, the second studio album by English indie and grunge band Black Foxxes
  • Vide Noir, the third studio album by American rock band Lord Huron


As already anticipated, you may enjoy all the best songs from these bands in a single and breathtaking compilation: BEST ROCK OF 2018. Now Playing on Spotify!


END OF THE YEAR LISTS: BEST MEDITATIVE AND MODERN CLASSICAL MUSIC OF 2018 (CHART + PLAYLIST)

As I already commented in a couple of previous posts, I believe that “electroacoustic” and “modern classical” are among the genres of music that have benefited the most from the modern mechanisms of distribution of digital music, as witnessed by the universal success of “moods-based” and contextual playlist like “Peaceful Piano”, “Deep Focus” and “Relax & Unwind”. On the other hand, however, the prospect of being included in one of these playlists and thus catapulted into the spotlight of million of listeners has motivated hordes of mediocre artists to publish singles, EPs or entire albums of atmospheric and meditative music.

Fortunately, there are still many artists who are able to emerge from this mass of mediocrity through their talent and their compositional sensibility. This year, in particular, we could enjoy a really good number of excellent records and it was really challenging to isolate only ten LPs for this final chart.

It’s easy to verify that these albums belong to relatively different sub-genres of “meditative music” and therefore they represent distinct approaches to modern classical and electroacoustic. Naturally everyone can be more or less connected to a specific style of music and, therefore, the specific position of each artist in the chart could be the subject of endless discussions. What is objective, however, is that each one of these musicians has managed to compose something special, unique, and of absolute value. In this sense, I’m convinced that this selection of records is an excellent representation of the best we heard in 2018.

Enjoy the reading and, of course, listen to the beautiful pieces that were composed and executed by these great artists. For what concern the music, I’m pleased to inform that there is also a special playlist on Spotify which collects the best tracks from each one of the selected LPs.



#10) Theo Alexander, “Broken Access”

Theo Alexander is a London-born composer who specialised in the blend of tape-loop based drones with contemporary classical music.

Theo Alexander is a relatively young English composer of contemporary classical music and Broken Access is his newest full-lenght record, released in April 2018. The four tracks of the LP offer to the listener the possibility to travel across haunting and claustrophobic imaginary landscapes which develop around layers of drones and tape-loops of piano recordings.

The techniques used by Theo Alexander to produce his delicate and rarefied atmospheres are not particularly innovative and from a purely formal point of view this style of music is nowadays practiced by many musicians (too many, perhaps). What distinguishes the English artist is his extraordinary musical sensibility and an innate talent of knowing how to remove from each song all the superfluous elements, leaving just what is necessary to convey the strongest and deepest emotions. Yes, because the five songs of Broken Access are definitely emotional. This is not a kind of music that may leave you cold or neutral. Whether you are or not a lover of meditative and modern classical music, the songs of Broken Access will reach your soul and provoke conflicting feelings: peace, anxiety, abandonment. In some moments the contrast between the prolonged sounds of the synthesizers and the perturbations introduced by the other instruments reach levels of true excitement.

And this is also record that can be put on repeat mode for hours and hours, while we are at home relaxing on the couch, or working on the PC; you won’t ever get tired of the fantastic soundscapes and the delicate pieces of melody coming out from the speakers.



#9) Kaada, “Closing Statements”

John Erik Kaada is a Norwegian singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. His musical production spans from music scores, solo albums and collaborations with other experimental artists like Mike Patton.

In a musical landscape like the current one, where all the attention seems to be aimed at writing successful singles, easy to assimilate and suitable to appear in a thousand of different playlists, the decision to realize a concept album already seems a bold decision.  In this sense, to plan about writing an entire album dedicated to the theme of death clearly appears as a commercial suicide. Given these premises, the result obtained by Kaada with his latest work Closing Statements is definitely surprising and, as a matter of fact, the album composed by the Norwegian artist stands out as one of the most successful and appreciable records of the year. On the other hand, we’re talking of a talented musician who has always managed to combine a strong spirit of experimentation with a musical sensibility that’s out of the ordinary, and the result is that most of his albums are equally intriguing to hear and, at the same time, relatively accessible.

Closing Statements is not just an album about death. The main theme of the work is more specifically the transition between life and that unkown destination that is waiting us at the end of our journey, made through the recollection of the last sentences of the dying (the “Closing Statements”).  
Surely it’s a strong and fascinating subject, but which has been addressed by Kaada with delicacy and balance. The result is in fact a collection of pieces which result profound, fascinating, but never oppressive and depressing. The album is also graced by a variety of styles and arrangements that make the work absolutely enjoyable to listen both at the level of the individual songs, but also as a single story organized in several chapters.

Musically speaking, most of the songs gravitate around a style of electroacoustic music that combines classical instruments like piano and violins with electronic, cinematic and environmental inserts. Nothing particularly original in itself and the experimental compoente, this time, seems to have focused to reach the goal of making almost imperceptible the difference between acoustic elements and synthetic parts, as if Kaada wanted to replicate, in music, that blurred and mysterious transition that passes between the last moments of life and what comes next.



#8) Dead Can Dance, “Dionysus”

Dead Can Dance is a musical project formed in 1981 in Melbourne by Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry. Having disbanded in 1998, they reunited briefly in 2005 and then reformed defintely in 2011.

I remember when I was a teenager and listening to Dead Can Dance was extremely cool and trendy. At that time the access to music was definitely more complicated with respect to modern standards and therefore, for an high school student, the act itself of buying a record of world music had the effect of giving you the fame of an expert of cultured music, at least in the eyes of those friends who used to listen Madonna and Guns and Roses. It is a fact, however, that at the end of the last century the Australian duo had achieved an impressive reputation among an heterogeneous family of music lovers, touching in some cases the status of cult band. And this happened thanks to the absolutely unique ability of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry in transposing ancient music and ethnic elements in an extremely accessible format, without losing quality and depth. Over the years their influence has maybe shrinked a little, but their albums have always preserved the charm and the value of products of great class.

This year Dead Can Dance have released a new studio album, called Dionysus, and this should be considered in itself a special event: not only the album is the ninth of a career that is close to reach forty years of activity (with some interruptions), but it also arrives six years after the previous work, 2012’s Anastasis. Beyond the numerical aspects, Dionysus provides the fans of the band and the lovers of world music with another exciting collection of tribal fusion and neoclassical songs, all of the highest quality and with a few moments of absolute beauty.

Beyond the characteristics of the individual songs, however, Dionysus was conceived in such a way as to be heard in one single run, from the beginning to the end, without the possibility for the listener of deviating from the sequence of songs that was established by the authors. In this respect, it’s sufficient to say that the digital edition of the album has only two tracks (Act I and Act II), each one collecting different chapters of the exciting story composed by the Australian musicians.

From a purely musical point of view, Dionysus doesn’t shine for particular originality in the context of the band’s discography. On the contrary, at a first listen it may seem even a bit flat and less exciting with respect to their standard levels. The beauty of the album, however, emerges after a few repeated listens, once you become familiar with the delicate mixture of Celtic, New Age and Middle Eastern music that is provided in the LP. In part it’s true that the melodies in Dionysus are less immediate and catchy than some of the most famous songs from the band. But the fact is that in their new record Dead Can Dance wanted to represent the multicolored world of the God of Ecstasy, and rather than insisting on obsessive and dramatic rhythms, they composed a special music that captures you slowly, progressively, and which will transport you into a magical and luminous world, obscured only a few times by some dark shadow.



#7) Ólafur Arnalds, “Re: member”

Ólafur Arnalds is amulti-instrumentalist and producer from Mosfellsbær, in Iceland. Since the beginning of his career in 2004, Arnalds has released to date four LPs but many other records such as soundtracks, EPs and collaborative albums.

Probably because of my past as an amateur pianist and my boundless passion for the music of all kinds and genres, I developed an emotional connection with the music of Ólafur Arnalds as soon as I started listening to his works. I’ve been always impressed by the ability of the Icelandic composer in creating delicate, melodic and passionate songs, inspired by the melodies of the classical repertoire, which were transported, with inspiration and talent, in a new modern and “electronic” context. A moderate criticism that could perhaps be expressed about Arnalds’ music was about his recourse, in some cases, to musical expressions and atmospheres that could appear a bit too “sugary” and, to a certain extent, didactic. At least this was what I heard from some of the friends or acquaintances with whom I was trying to share my passion for this artist. Objectively, however, everyone recognizes that Arnalds has been one of the forerunner of that impressive mass of authors and composers who nowadays populate many playlists of Spotify with their melodic, minimal, but in many cases extremely uninspired and mannerist pieces.

Ólafur Arnalds’ new record, named Re: member, is the fourth LP of a discography that is very rich of singles, EP, collaborations, soundtracks and even a mixtape. What could we expect from an artist who generated so many disciples and followers if not a completely revolutionary and somewhat controversial album?

Forget the lyrical and intimate melodies of For Now I Am Winter, the beautiful mixes of strings and piano of …And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness, and the neo-classical inspired ambient of Eulogy for Evolution. Instead, prepare yourself for a journey into a severe minimalism that only sporadically leaves he floor to sketches of melodies. Delicate layers of sounds and simple loops create here beautiful atmospheres, and we find ourselves suspended in a cloud of lightness, which is the ideal environment to travel back into our memories, which was peraphs one of the goals of the author if we interpret the title of the album.

The casual listeners will struggle to recognize the artist in many of the songs that are featured in this collection. His touch, however, is always present and recognizable for those who have enjoyed all of his previous works. These fans will surely appreciate the attempt of the artist to evolve his music towards new grounds. Re:member will not be the most catchy and enjoyable entry in Arnalds’ wide catalogue of records, but it is definitely a new important chapter in a musical career that has always seen him as a pioneer of modern classical music rather than just a follower of trends.

As a final note, Arnalds’ new LP is also characterized by the use of the Stratus Piano, a new music system invented by the artist that generates pseudo-random combinations of notes each time he presses a key on his piano. Two years have been spent to implement, tune and refine the Stratus Piano, and I must admit that the unexpected sequences of sounds that are generated by this system introduce a further element of interest for many of the songs of Re:member.



#6) Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, “Epoques”

Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch is an award-winning French pianist and composer currently living in London. Her discography includes solo albums, movie soundtracks, collaborations and other special musical projects.

Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch is a young, talented and quite prolific artist who has gained the attention of music lovers and critics both as composer of cinematic soundtracks and for experimental electro-acoustic albums. Her musicis not easy to describe in a few words, let me just say that it’s substantially modern classical music with the insertion of electronic elements.

On last July the artist has released her second full-lenght LP, called Epoques, which provides the listener with an intriguing alternation of minimalistic solo piano pieces and more articulated songs where piano, strings and electronic inserts are mixed together and create delicate, and sometimes haunting, layers of sounds.

The album highlights the maturity but also the boldness of this young artist in processing and transforming basic and minimal sketches of music into powerful, visceral but also sometimes hallucinatory songs. With the exception of a few tracks that are relatively “melodic” and easier to enjoy, most of the album requires some special condition to appreciate in full the music that is offered to the listener. First of all you must be in the condition to dedicate the full attention to the harmonic constructs that are built by the artist, but you should be also in the mood to be guided across an adventurous exploration of the less frequented areas of modern music.

Despite the many different references that we may extrapolate from Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s music (Philip Glass and Bela Bartok are two of them), Epoque is in the end a unique piece of art with its own meaning in the wider context of modern classical music. Surely this is not one of the many electro-acoustic music records that are composed and played for the general public. It’s rather a small treasure of creativity and expressiveness for those who’re willing to enjoy a continuous shift of emotion between lighter moments of serenity, and grittier, obscure but impressively emotional and moving pieces.



#5) Poppy Ackroyd, “Resolve”

Poppy Ackroyd is a composer from London, currently based in Brighton. Classically trained on violin and piano, she makes music by manipulating and multi-tracking sounds from these and other instruments.

British composer and multi-instrumentalist Poppy Ackryod has achieved in the recent years a certain popularity both as author of a couple of solid and precious solo albums and as member of the music project Hidden Orchestra, that we have often mentioned in these pages.

Ackroyd’s music was initially characterized by the rigid choice to limit the instrumentation to only piano and violin, that were recorded, post-processed and mixed in her songs. During the years, however, the sonic range of has gradually grown, and in Poppy Ackroyd’s latest album, Resolve, we may appreciate the contribution of additional instruments and also the presence of a couple of guest artists. Violin and piano remain at the center of her music, but there are now other elements that expand the dynamics of the songs.

Stylistically speaking the sound conceived by the British artist for her new LP remains almost tied to the classical canons of electro-acoustic music and  if we exclude a few brief moments of experimentation, the album is extremely linear and accessible for a  mainstream audience. The songs of Resolve, however, are so warm and beautifully intimate that the lack of depth and intensity are totally compensated by a sense of overall ligthness and enjoyability that spreads from every track of the LP. Listening to this album unleashes in our mind a spirit of cautious optimism and, in this respect, the simplicity of the arrangements and the fluidity of the harmonic architectures make the songs of Resolve capable to hold us in a tender musical embrace. These are precious moments of quiet and serenity, and everyone knows how important they can be, in certain moments, to help dealing with the complications of our real life.



#4) Chilly Gonzales, “Solo Piano III”

Jason Charles Beck, professionally known as Chilly Gonzales is a Grammy-winning Canadian musician. Mostly known for his albums of classical piano compositions with a pop music sensibility, he is also a producer and songwriter.

I’ve been listening for so many years and I still get excited by the music written and performed by Chilly Gonzales, the canadian pianist, composer and entertainer who has contributed to the revival of the modern classical genre. As an amateur pianist I also learned some of the songs from his two previous albums for solo piano and therefore since the first day I heard about his new album my expectations were literally skyrocketing. And from the moment when I could eventually get my hands on his new LP, it played almost uninterruptedly for a couple of months in my music player.

Solo Piano III is the third collection of short instrumental pieces for piano that has been released so far by Gonzales, who also declared that the new album will be the last chapter of his Solo Piano project. Some of the thirteen tracks of the record – probably the most beautiful ones – were already shared by the author a few months before the official release of the album, and this has somewhat mitigated the surprise effect.  Anyway, being Solo Piano III the third installment of a cycle that Gonzales started as early as 2004, it was certainly not the surprise that what we were looking for in the new record, bur rather the confirmation of the ability of such an incredible and histrionic artist to compose pieces that are so pure and delicate to become, in the end, timeless.

A lot has already been said about the uniqueness of Gonzales’ musical style and the naturalness which he shows in writing music that it’s “classical” in structure and feeling, but which brings inside a modern sensibility and also a “popular” approach to piano music (the Erik Satie of our times, someone said about Gonzales). What we can say is that the last chapter of the trilogy doesn’t depart from the sounds and the style that we already heard in the initial two albums of the project and, as a matter of fact, a few tracks seem taken directly from the previous works from the author. Some difference, rather, can be found in the overall architecture of the album. If the first two Solo Piano records were characterized by a lightness and an overall fluidity that made each one of them appear like one single flow of cristalline beauty, the new album seems to proceed a little more intermittently. It looks like Gonzales is now trying to persuade the listener to focus the attention on the individual pieces and the specific characteristics of each song.

There is a little less accessibility in Solo Piano III with respect to his first two works, but in return we have more incentives to go deep into the dynamics of the individual songs. This partially compensates for the lack of novelty and surprise, I mean in comparison with the reactions that were generated by the first chapter of the project. That said, however, the overall value and enjoyability of the album remains very high and at this point we feel only the relative sadness due to the fact that – if the author will keep his promise – there won’t be a further follow-on to this wonderful and unique musical project.



#3) Dakota Suite, Dag Rosenqvist, Emanuele Errante. “What Matters Most”

Dakota Suite is an english band formed in 1996 by Chris Hooson and David Buxton which has specialised in writing singer songwriter songs characterized with ambient and cinematic soundscapes.

One of the most fascinating aspects of music is that there are works made to convey positive feelings and therefore capable to brighten up your days, but at the same time there are many others that insist on emotions like melancholy, sadness, desperation, but still result enjoyable and interesting to listen. What Matters Most, the album born from the collaboration among Dakota SuiteDag Rosenqvist and Emanuele Errante, belongs definitely to this second category.

The main feeling that emerges from the songs of What Matters Most is something very close to profound sadness or, even better, to that particular emotion that we feel when the pain for an important loss becomes the awareness that nothing will be the same. And this is not something which remains in the surface and flows on your skin without leaving a trace. The music that was composed by the artists is precious, extremely emotional, it manages to interact with the deepest parts of your soul, and you still feel the chills even after the song is finished.

The songs of What Matters Most are relatively different one from the other, but all of them share a few common elements which give a sense of strong expressive continuity and stylistic coherence throughout the whole album. Almost every song, for example, sees the dominant presence of one single musical instrument, typically the acoustic guitar or the piano, which is assigned the task of drawing the melancholic arpeggios or the delicate melodies that constitute the backbone of the song. Around the main instrument we hear gentle touches of strings, sometimes a wind instrument, and ambient noises. Everything contributes to create the rarefied and beautiful atmospheres that, in the end, are what binds together all the tracks of the album. Some songs have also lyrics and the nice alternation between the parts with the voice and the instrumental sections adds a further element of dynamism and internal variety to the LP, together with some crescendo that occasionally arrive to break the moment of stasis that was created by the instruments.

In true honesty, however, we couldn’t expect anything less than exceptional given the presence of Dakota Suite: the band from Leeds has always released albums of rare beauty as only the great musicians can do. Despite the undisputed skills of the artists involved in this project, the album took a long time before being completed. The reason is clear, however. It’s sufficient to listen with attention one single song of the LP to appreciate the maniacal care that was applied to every details, and also the effort that was spent to reach the impressive balance which exists among all the individual instruments.



#2) Nils Frahm, “All Melody”

Nils Frahm is a German musician, composer, and record producer. He is known for combining classical and electronic music and his discography already features nine LPs, four EPs, and many other releases as soundtracks and collaborative albums.

The experience that I had when I first listened to All Melody, which is latest work by German composer Nils Frahm, was not totally positive: there were for sure a few moments of great elegance and delicacy, but there was no song that caught my attention or generated any particular feeling. I left the record playing in background while I was busy writing some document, and after a while I started to realize that part of my thoughts were turned to the music and I was definitely enjoying the subtle melodies that this album is plenty of. All of a sudden, the crystalline beauty of this work was finally revealed to me and I also understood the meaning of the title of the LP:  these are pure melodies, rarefied musical lines that slowly and gently emerge from the white noise that surrounds us, like that phenomenon of lateral vision which makes our eyes more susceptible to the movements that occur outside the field of view.

From a musical point of view, this album is characterized by very slow rhythms and an extremely minimal approach to composition. The typical elements of Frahm’s music, which are the combination of analog and digital instruments and the perfect fusion of electronic and modern classical styles, are all present, but the architecture of this work is so bare and essential as we didn’t hear for long in his discography. But be careful, if the compositional structures are so essential, the tonal and dynamic aspects of the songs are absolutely rich. The sounds that come from the album are warm, soft, engaging. The artist has used a large number of different instruments and in global terms we observe here a progressive distancing from the simple piano – which has been for long at the heart of Frahm’s music – to embrace an extremely wider and articulated palette of sounds. All Melody confirms also one of the typical characteristics of Frahm’s approach to electro-acoustic music, which is the capacity to transform – almost imperceptibly – conventional sounds of piano and organ into electronic elements. The picture is then completed with the nice and original introduction of choirs and wind instruments.

In the broader context of the author’s discography, All Melody is the first one produced after he built a special recording studio inside an art house in Berlin (you can see it in the LP’s cover). It took two years of work to complete tthis room according to what were the strict requirements of the artist, and based on the result we hear in his record we can for sure wait with excitement to the upcoming albums that will be recorded there.



#1) Luke Howard, “Open Heart Story”

Luke Howard is considered today as one of Australia’s foremost practitioners of contemporary classical music. His discography features solo albums as well as a number of interesting collaborations.

Everyone has experienced that magical situation when the music you’re listening seems perfectly matched with the images that – in that specific moment – are passing in front of your eyes. And everyone knows that the perfect symbiosis created between images and music remains somehow attached to the notes you hear, so that every time you’ll listen again to the same songs you will feel a special chill on your skin, as if you were travelling back in time to that special and unique moment of your life. Last summer I was driving alone, at night, along the country roads of Puglia, a beautiful region in the south of Italy, and while I was passing through the evocative and haunting fields of olive groves, the car stereo was playing the beautiful songs of Open Heart Story, which is the last LP published by  pianist and composer Luke Howard. Perhaps because I was about to reach the family after a long period of separation, perhaps because the night landscape was so fascinating, the fact is that Howard’s music, in that day of my life, gave me a wide range of emotions that were so strong that I will never forget that ride.

Anyway, is this personal experience the only reason why Open Heart Story is here in the first position of the chart? The answer is negative. As a matter of fact, after many listens of the LP I can say without any doubt that the value of Luke Howard’s record is absolute and objective. This is heavenly music that has the capacity to make you feel connected to the world around you, or to recover from your memory some melancholic moment of your past.

On the other hand, in his relatively brief but intense career the Australian composer has refined  an expressive ability that’s really out of the ordinary, and having experimented with relatively different genres such as contemporary classical music, ambient and instrumental minimalism, has put him in a position where it seems extremely easy for him to identify, for each song, which is the style and the specific arrangement which fit best with the particular feeling that he wants to evoke with the music. It is no coincidence, then, that the journey through Open Heart Story becomes an exciting and engaging ride across many different feelings, and it is surprising to see how easy we move from a melancholic piece for piano solo to a more articulated song with layers of strings, drones and gentle touches of percussion instruments, passing through moments of pure and crystalline musical poetry.

Another characteristic which I love of this album is how the music composed by Howard remains absolutely simple, but this simplicity is disarming and profound at the same time. It’s really like listening to elementary melodies that touch the strings of your heart, or reading between the most exciting pages of your memories. An Open Heart Story, in all senses.



As already introduced at the beginning of the article, you can enjoy the best songs from the selected albums in a special playist that was assembled on Spotify. Two songs from each record, more than 90 minutes of pure beauty.



END OF THE YEAR LISTS: BEST INDIE POP OF 2018 (CHART + PLAYLIST)

While I was assembling this list with the best indie pop albums of 2018 I could realize that this year has been characterized by an impressive number of young and emerging artists. While this is certainly a good sign for the future of the genre, on the other side it shows how it is relatively common and physiological, apart from some rare exceptions, that the most successful bands slowly and progressively lose that spark of innovation and creativity that we find burning and alive in the youngest formations.

In general terms, however, this was certainly an interesting year for indie pop music and together with some confirmations (Metric, Calexico
Anna von Hausswolff and Soap&Skin) we also had a few intriguing surprises (Postcards from Lebanon, Say Sue Me from South Korea).

Before proceeding with the chart, I’m pleased to inform that there is a special playlist on Spotify which collects the most beautiful songs taken from the albums that are featured in this article. Good reading and good listening!



#10) Metric, “Art of Doubt”

Indie Pop / Synth Pop
Metric is a Canadian rock band founded in 1998 in Toronto, Ontario. Their discography features seven full-lenght studio records.

Over the past fifteen years the sound of Metric has traveled several times, and in both directions, along the path which runs between synthpop and indie rock. And the new album by the Canadian band, Art of Doubt, seems to be conceived in order to summarize, in one single episode, all the main stages of this travel. In certain songs we have a clear “rock and roll” feeling with guitars, bass and drums in the foreground, but there are many other parts of the album where atmospheres and sounds are definitely “pop”, with triumphs of synthetizers and also many hints to those downtempo and basic melodies which characterized the early works of the band.

As usual, the burden of keeping everything consistent is mostly in the hands of Emily Haines and James Shaw, who’ve been since the beginning the driving forces of the band. Haines, in particular, delivers in the new LP one of her best vocal performances so far, whilst Shaw’s guitar, glossy and sticky, always manages to offer something interesting and catchy to hear.

Art of Doubt won’t be the absolute masterpiece in Metric’s career, but it’s still an absolutely valid and interesting record, with a few songs that that remain deeply impressed in our memory and that populated many of the playlists which circulated this year.



#9) Calexico, “The Thread That Keeps Us”

Indie Pop / Desert Noir / Americana
Joey Burns and John Convertino are the two main members of Calexico, a Tucson, Arizona-based Americana, Tex-Mex, indie rock band. The band has relesed ten LPs since its formation in 1996.

It’s always a special moment when a band reaches the milestone of the tenth album of their discography and Calexico, the “desert noir” group founded more than twenty years ago by Joey Burns and John Convertino, has achieved this result in 2018 with their new album The Thread That Keeps Us.

The name of the group is that of the city of Calexico, located on the border between the United States and Mexico, and this choice has always reminded of the particular approach that Burns and Convertino have followed in their career by mixing together different genres and influences. Their latest album is no exception, and we can in fact appreciate an enjoyable mix of Americana, folk and the usual references to the Latin musical tradition.

The songs of The Thread That Keeps Us are generally interesting and intriguing, although the duration of the album (fifteen tracks plus seven bonuses) has somewhat diluted its overall intensity. As always, however, we can appreciate in Calexico’s music an elegance and also a desire to experiment that are quite unique in today’s panorama, and for this reason we can certainly tolerate some small drop in intensity and enjoy, on the other side, some of the most fascinating songs among those we could enjoy this year.



#8) Roosevelt, “Young Romance”

Synth Pop / Indie Electronic
Roosevelt (born Marius Lauber in September 1990) is a German singer, songwriter and producer from Viersen. He has released his first self-titled LP in 2016, and he published in 2018 his second record, named “Young Romance”.

There are albums that seem to be made for being played in the background, bringing good feelings and a boost in positivity. Young Romance, the new album from German singer, DJ and producer Marius Lauber (who plays under the moniker of Roosevelt) is definitely one of these records. The music he wrote for his new album is in fact a clean and polished version of synth-pop which takes deep inspiration from the sounds of the 80s, rich of sweet notes and pleasant atmospheres.

Young Romance features a nice collection singable and easy-listening vintage pop songs that manage to maintain a good level of originality and interest. There is in particular a streak of very good songs placed right in the middle of the disk which stand out for the enjoyability and the catchyness of the choruses, something that should guarantee high rotations in many music playlists (including mine).

With his second solo work, Marius Lauber continues his process of progressive departure from the world of indie electronic towards the wider shores of pop music. In doing this transformation he’s increasing the recourse to vintage sounds from the golden age of synth-pop, trying to make his music more fascinating and, in some way, characteristic. In many tracks of the new album this operation was certainly successful, even if there is an tangible gap between the best songs of Young Romance and the remaining ones, and this is perhaps the weakest aspect of Roosevelt’s new work.



#7) The Wombats, “Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life”

Indie Pop / Indie Rock / Punk Revival
The Wombats are an English pop/rock band formed in Liverpool in 2003, Their debut studio album was released in 2017 and the band has published to date four LPs.

The Wombats, from Liverpool, have published this year the fourth album of their career, named Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life. Since their initial formation in 2003, the band has experienced many changes in their style: from electronic/psychedelic music to post-punk revival, arriving the current sound which blends pop-oriented melodies with elements from indie rock and alternative dance. In short, a mixture of influences and inspirations that has always guaranteed freshness and innovation to their albums, something which is somehow confirmed in their last record.

Despite some gap between the best and weakest parts, the album offers a fine collection of songs that moves with ease between pop and rock, with a few tracks that emerge from the others for their catchy choruses and some particularly intriguing melody.

The style of the band has always tried to find a difficult balance between a “mainstream” sound made for gaining the attention of the  general public, and  an “indie” approach aimed at keeping their music intriguing and somehow particular. After more of ten years of experience in the studio and on the stages, this challenging goal has been mostly achieved.



#6) David Duchovny, “Every Third Thought”

Indie Pop / Folk / Pop Rock
David William Duchovny is an American actor, writer, producer, director, novelist, and singer-songwriter. As a musicians, he has released to date two LPs.

David Duchovny is one of those artists who likes to challenge himself with different forms of expression and in fact, in addition to looking for aliens and other mysteries, the famous American actor has distinguished himself as a novelist, producer, and also musician. As far as his music career is concerned, it should be said that Duchovny writes and arranges all of his songs, thus showing qualities that go well beyond a nice presence on the stage and an interesting voice.

Although I had initially some skepticism about his music, I had to recognize  that Every Third Thought , which is Duchovny’s latest LP, is definitely an interesting and appreciable collection of indie pop songs, and in fact some of them that have been rotating frequently in some of the playlists that I’m curating on Spotify.

Compared with Duchovny’s previous release (2015’s Hell or Highwater) the new album has gained in intensity and also energy: his sound today is definitely more “rock”, and the overall enjoyability of the album has benefited from such evolution. The songs of Every Third Thought won’t be the ones that will revolutionize the indie scene, but Duchovny’s music is definitely extremely nice to listen to, and also much more interesting than what one could expect.



#5) Wild Pink, “Yolk in the Fur”

Indie Pop / Indie Rock
Wild Pink is an American indie rock band from the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. Their self-titled debut full-length album was released in February 2017. The band’s second and most recent album, “Yolk in the Fur”, was released on July 2018.

Wild Pink, from New York City, is one of those emerging bands which are trying to find their own space in the music scene by cultivating elegance and style rather than using commercial and marketing stratagems to get the attention of fans and medias in general. Wild Pink define themselves as an indie rock band, and their formation is in effect the typical trio with guitar/vocals, bass and drums. The music composed by these guys, however, travels through the softer and quieter regions of the rock universe, on that blurred border that exists between rock and indie pop; this the kind of music which has as major exponents authors such as War on Drugs, Kurt Vile and, to some extent, Death Cab for Cutie (if you consider their early works).

Formed in 2017, Wild Pink have published so far two EPs and two LPs. Their last full-lenght record, Yolk in the Fur, presents a fairly significant evolution of their style compared to their self-titled debut, especially for the adoption of a more classic and conventional structure of the songs. Compared to their first record, the sound of Wild Pink is slowly drifting towards more placid and quiet musical landscapes, rarely perturbed by guitar distortions and dissonances. It’s like being on a beach at the end of the summer: the climate still carries the scent and the lightness of the sunny days that we enjoyed until a few weeks ago, but there are occasionally breezes of cold winds and also black clouds that can obscure the light for a few minutes.

Musically speaking, Yolk in the Fur is characterized by placid rhythms and simple but intriguing melodies. Most of the songs are built on top of clean guitars, warm lines of bass and delicate layers of acoustic synthetizers. And there is of course the charming voice of John Ross, the leader and songwriter of the band, a singer who never needs to scream to tell his stories, like an old friend who sits beside you and calmly talks about the things he has observed during his absence.



#4) Say Sue Me, “Where We Were Together”

Indie Pop / Surf Rock / Pop Rock
Say Sue Me define themselves as an indie rock band from Busan, South Korea. They have released to date a number of EPs and two full-lenght albums.

It was pretty surprising for me to find out that Say Sue Me is a band coming from South Korea. When I first listened to their songs, they appeared to me as one of the many North American or European bands who try to find their way into the music scene. I must admit that the particular origin of the band stimulated me to listen with more attention to their LP, Where We Were Together, which is the second disc of their discography (I missed their debut, my apologies). After listening to the whole record for a handful of times I started to get more attracted to their music and, in the end, I’m really happy that I gave them a second chance after my first (inattentive) try.

Where We Were Together features an ejoyable collection of small and luminous musical sketches, all of them cheerful and nice to hear. One of the strongest elements of their song is surely the delicate and angelic voice of the singer, who gives grace and atmosphere to all the record.

Where We Were Together seems to me the perfect music to be heard on my return home on Friday afternoons, when the tension of a week of meetings and commitments slowly dissolves into the promise of a weekend of serenity.



#3) Anna von Hausswolff, “Dead Magic”

Art Pop / Dark Ambient
Anna Michaela Ebba Electra von Hausswolff is a Swedish singer, pianist, organist and songwriter. She has released to date four LPs and three EPs.

Anna von Hausswolff, from Sweden, represents one of those cases in which the talent transcends the artist’s age and experience. In 2010, at the age of 24, the eclectic singer and organist released her first album, Singing From the Grave, which already highlighted the first fragments of her genius. In 2018, eight years after her debut, she fully confirms with the new album Dead Magic all the good things that were said about her impressive debut and also the following two records that she published, respectively, in 2012 and 2015.

The style of Anna von Hausswolff is something difficult to explain with just words: it is a sort of mix of dark ambient, avant-garde and art pop. Beyond the tags and attributes, however, the important thing to say is that the five songs of Dead Magic manage to transmit strong and contrasting emotions like peace and anxiety, joy and agitation, trust and loss. The pieces of the album live in an unstable balance between positive and negative elements, with layers of sounds that alternate one after the other following the slow and pulsating rhythm of the music. The artist’s voice, scarcely spread across the LP, makes the tracks even more fascinating and sometimes haunting.

Surely this is not an album made for relax or entertainment, but all those listeners who are ready to venture into the shifting and challenging worlds created by the artist will be rewared with one of the most exciting collections of music that have been published in recent times.



#2) Soap&Skin, “From Gas to Solid / you are my friend”

Art Pop
Soap&Skin is the experimental musical project of Austrian artist Anja Plaschg. She has released to date three LPs.

I remember very well my first musical encounter with Soap&Skin because her debut album, 2009’s Lovetune for Vacuum, coincided with my first purchase on iTunes. At that time I was excited by how it was becoming easy and immediate to discover and acquire music from virtually unknown artist and that excitment, to some extent, had led me to feel a sort of special connection with the album of the Austrian artist. After a short while, however, I realized that despite the LP was for sure a promising debut from a young musician, in the end it resulted less longeve and amazing than what I had felt after the first few listens. The kind of experimental music played by Anja Plaschg was absolutely evocative and also quite original. What didn’t convince me, however, was that alongside some very good songs, objectively emotional and exciting to hear, there were many other tracks that resulted extremely intimate and overly personal: fragments of experiences that for sure represented something very important in the life of the artist but which, once translated into music, resulted not really communicative and poor of emotions for the external listener.

In the recent years I lost sight of this artist and therefore I was a little surprised, and curious, when I received the news of her new album, called From Gas to Solid / you are my friend. But more than the news by itself, I was particularly impressed to discover how Anja Plaschg gained in confidence and maturity in years that have passed since her first two records.

Soap&Skin’s new LP is characterized many positive features. The style is still experimental and also permeated by a general atmosphere of darkness and anxiety. The palette of sounds, however, is much more varied and alongside the usual fragments of piano and other classical instruments we have today chamber choruses, lots of different percussion instruments, ambient noises and delicate layers of synths. Flashes of light come from time to time to illuminate the darkness, and this makes the LP definitely more dynamic and enjoyable to hear. It’s as if a vein of positivity has been grafted into the music of the Austrian artist, and the resulting contrast between light and shadows makes the overall picture much more compelling.

From Gas to Solid / you are my friend is the album that in my opinion marks the maturity of Soap&Skin. Some songs continue to be a bit too cryptic for the casual listener, but for all those who like neoclassical moods and are also ready to embrace dark ambient atmospheres, this album will offer intense emotions and a rewarding musical experience.




#1) Postcards, “I’ll Be Here In The Morning”

Dreamy Pop / Indie Rock
Postcards is a Lebanese dream pop/indie rock band formed in early 2013. They have released three EPs and their first full-length record, “I’ll be here in the morning”, was released on January 2018.

This LP was one of the first indie pop records that were reviewed this year in this blog and therefore is surprising enough to find it firmly on top of the chart now that we have eventually arrived to the final selection for 2018, in particular if we consider that it’s a debut work. 

I’ll be here in the morning is the first album released by Postcards, a dreamy-pop & indie rock band formed in Beirut, Lebanon, on late 2012. Postcards describe their music as “hushed, introspective vocals floating over expansive sonic spaces that shift between harsh noise and dreamy soundscapes”. Such definition may be a little too complex and sophisticated, but there is no doubt that the music offered in this debut LP is of absolute value and it contains many elements of innovation, in particular when taking into account the current status of the indie pop scene.

One of the most exciting aspects of I’ll be here in the morning is that the songs seem as they are not completely defined: they move between areas of lightness and tranquillity and other sections which are definitely more dark,meditative, with melodies that initially appear serene and peaceful but, during the development of the songs, start to show also ambiguous and subtly disturbing elements. The album is also characterized by a nice alternation of intimate songs and more angry and polemical moments. In short, it’s a concentration of extremely different moments which are however interconnected by a style of music that remains coherent and effective across the nine tracks of the record.

Finally, it’s worth to say that despite we are evidently looking at the first steps of a promising career, these four musicians from Beirut already show ecellent songwriting skills, togethr with an impressive musical sensibility. If Poscards will confirm these qualities in their future works, they are destined to do great things in music. And I will be there to remind you that I was one of those few who discovered their value since their debut record.



As anticipated at the beginning of the article, you may enjoy the best songs from these albums in a special Playlist that I’ve just created on Spotify! Listen to it and spread the word!



THE BEST ELECTRONIC MUSIC OF 2018 (so far), April 2018

This blog has been relatively silent for a few weeks, let’s now come back to a more regular production of charts, reviews, playlists and mixtapes!

The first quarter of the year has now passed and we can start having some solid charts with the best releases for each genre. Today I’m going to present you the best Electronic albums that were released in the first three months of the year. And it’s quite interesting to realize that one third of the selected LPs are debut works from two relatively young artists. The list is then completed by a the new work by a veteran of Electronic music, a remix album, an experimental duo of art pop musicians and, last bat not least, the first electronic album produced with the contribution of artificial intelligence.  Not bad, you just have to read and listen!

For everyone who arrived here through a search engine, please consider that this list was published on April 2018 and there may be newer charts available in the Electronic section of the blog. Enjoy!


 

#1) Hello World by SKYGGE

(Electro Pop)

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Benoit Carré, the French pop musician best known as SKYGGE, has led a group of electronic artists to realize “Hello World”, the first album composed with the contribution of artificial intelligence

Introduced as the first mainstream music album composed with artificial intelligence, Hello World tells the story of a group of electronic music artists guided by French pop artist Benoit Carré (also know as SKYGGE) who joined a research project in which scientists were looking for algorithms to capture and reproduce the concept of musical “style”. The result of this effort is a collection of 15 electronic songs which, well beyond the experimental concept that lies behind, are absolutely interesting and pleasing to listen to.

From a musical point of view, the album is strongly influenced by European electronic music and it is easy to recognize in many songs the contributio from well known artists such as Stromae, the Belgian DJ and producer who’s got public attention in the last ten years ago with a number of catchy electronic songs. Thanks to the contributions of so many artists and thanks to this innovation given by artificial intelligence, the LP is gifted by an impressive variety and freshness of the songs and, in the end, it’s definitely a solid and intriguing collection of modern, catchy but also forward thinking electronic tracks.

Here in this blog, Hello World was also included in the higly regarded category of the Best New Music.


 

#2) Leather Teeth by CARPENTER BRUT

(Shyntwave)

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French electronic music artist Franck Hueso, better known by his stage name Carpenter Brut. To date he has released three EPs and, in 2018, the original album “Leather Teeth”, which is his debut LP.

The world of music is plenty of cases of metalheads that at some point diverted their attention to electronic music. As a matter of fact, metal and electronic share many elements in common and although it is not just as easy as to replace guitars with synthesizers, the transition from one genre to the other has been experience many times, typically from metal to electronic and in a few cases in the opposite direction. Last year, just to give an example, we celebrated the beautiful last album by Ulver: they started as a black metal band and arrived to produce one of the best synth-pop albums ever released.

Franck Hueso, better known by his stage name Carpenter Brut, is another artist that at some point in time left his passion for heavy metal and started producing an intriguing and old-fashioned version of synthwave. After a number of EPs and one live record he eventually released his debut full-lenght album, Leather Teeth.

The LP is very particular, initially it may leave you bewildered by the use – so blatant and pervasive to be almost anachronistic – of the typical sounds and instruments from the 80s. After this initial impact, however, we’re captured by the melodies and the nice rhythms of the songs, sometimes frenetic and other times more relaxed. The fastest songs are the ones I liked the most, but in general the whole album is definitely interesting and enjoyable, as well as curious and fun.


 

#3) Anywhere But Here by POLA RISE

(Electro Pop)

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Paulina Miłosz, the Poland Electronic artist better know with her stage name Pola Rise. She published in 2018 her first debut LP, “Anywhere But Here”.

Anywhere But Here is the debut album from a new electro pop artist from Poland, Paulina Miłosz, who operates under the stage name of Pola Rise. Since 2015 she started releasing a number of singles and eventually got a record deal with Warner Music Poland, which supported the publication of her full lenght work.

Pola Rise’s style of electronic music oscillates between pieces of clear experimental, nature with notes of avant-garde and improvisation, and more delicate and catchy songs, which in my opnion are also the ones that better highlight the qualities of this young artist. This album is particularly interesting because of the way in which it is able to give that “indie” feeling to songs that, in their essence, result quite linear and without any particular dynamic development. These are musical sketches, interesting and somehowe engaging, and composed with a light touch that manage to make them very easy to enjoy but, at the same time, destined to leave impercettible traces after the listening.


 

#4) Async-Remodels by RYUICHI SAKAMOTO

(Experimental, Ambient)

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Japanese multi-faceted artist Ryuichi Sakamoto released in 2017 his nineteenth solo studio album, “async“. “Async Remodels” contains eleven reworks of async’s original tracks, composed and performed by producers such as Jóhann Jóhannsson, Alva Noto, Fennesz, Cornelius, Oneohtrix Point Never, Electric Youth, and Arca.

My relationship with remix albums is generally positive, especially when there is a collection of pieces that manages to be appreciated even without the prior knowledge of the original material. Async Remodels belongs for sure to this category of albums and in fact the LP presents the work of a group of very good artists who took the challenge to confront themselves with the complex and profound songs of Ryuchi Sakamoto‘s latest solo LP, Async, released in 2017.

The idea to manipulate and alter the music of a legend of music like Sakamoto offers many possibilities, but it also exposes to big risks. To make this even more complicated, it’s important to remember that most of the tracks of Sakamoto’s last work were the result of a profound analysis that the Japanese artist made about the meaning of music: these songs were in fact the product of a conceptual exercise aimed at measuring the boundaries between the organic and the synthetic elements of music.

Listening to the remixes included Async Remodels we must recognize that many of the artists who were called to contribute not only accepted the challenge but they managed, in most of the cases, to give their personal contribution to Sakamoto’s analysis and, sometimes, the enriched the songs with new and original elements. Some tracks, such as those by Alva Noto, Electric Youth and Jóhann Jóhannsson (R.I.P.), seem to be a step higher than others, but in the end it is the average level of the record that’s very positive, making the LP one of the most interesting things happened this year in electronic music.


 

#5) Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt by MOBY

(Trip Hop)

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Richard Melville Hall, better known by his stage name Moby, became in the 90’s one of the most important dance music figures worldwide, helping bring the music to a mainstream audience both in the UK and in America. “Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt” is Moby’s fifteenth studio album.

In more than 25 years of career, American musician and producer Moby has explored different regions of the electronic world, from ambient to dance, with also a few episodes where he engaged with punk and rock (and his most recent rock releases may be also downloaded for free). But beyond the willingness to face different musical challenges, in all of these explorations Moby has always tried to give his own special contribution to the different genres he was playing with. Moby’s latest album, Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt, is clearly inspired by the sounds and dynamics of trip-hop, and the result is definitely good.

As a matter of fact, Moby has enriched the relative ease of listening of trip-hop with a special dedication to songwriting and a great attention to the details. The album in its entirety results in equal parts enjoyable and interesting to listen to, there are no evident missteps and the music, in the end, is both familiar and original. On the negative side the LP missing a really memorable song, one of those tracks with an unforgettable line and chorus. It is no coincidence, thus, that the most catchy refrain is that of the song Like A Motherless Child, which is based on a popular tunes from the past.


 

#6)  I can feel you creep into my private life by tUnE-YaRdS

(Experimental, Electro Pop)

Tune Yards - 1300
Singer and percussionist Merrill Garbus and bassist Nate Brenner are today the two permanent members of tUnE-yArDs, an art pop project which has arrived to the fourth LP of an interesting discography

Merrill Garbus, the US singer and songwriter who operates under the moniker of tUnE-YaRdS, never showed so far any lack of creativity and inventiveness. Indeed, from the beginning of her career she has maintained a minimalist approach to the choice of instruments and music styles almost as if she had the fear of covering, with an excess of effects and instruments, the essence of the motives and the ideas she was transforming into music. And even if this approach maybe precluded the largest audiences, i.e. those that are typically less corageous and less prepared to go beyond those well-established and conventional musical styles, she has still managed however to leave her mark within the indie scene of the last decade.

tUnE-YaRdS’ last album, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, sees longtime collaborator Nate Brenner become an official member of the project, with the duo confirming more or less the same approach of Garbus’ previous releases. Electronic hypnotic beats remain in fact the baseline over which we enjoy Garbus’ eclectic and thrilling vocal lines. The musical performance is not always up to the experimental ambitions of the duo, but where the desire to explore manages to find an adequate sonic vehicle, their songs can offer a very pleasant escape from the monotony of our routines.


 

 

 

BEST OF INDIE POP in 2018 / The Best Albums so far (March 2018)

The year 2017 was definitely an excellent one for Indie Pop and many good records were released across the many sub-genres of this style of music. We had also the possibility to appreciate how alongside established artists there were lots of interesting debuts.

This trend is fully confirmed in the first months of 2018. We had the pleasure to listen to a bunch of excellent works, including a few really interesting debut works, such as those by Postcards and Anna Burch.

I’m presenting in this post the best Indie Pop albums of the first months of 2018. If you arrived here through a search engine please check if thisis the most recent entry in this kind of chart; there will be for sure new updates in the next months of the year and you can access them via the pop section of the blog. Enjoy!

 


 

#1) I’LL BE HERE IN THE MORNING by Postcards

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Postcards, from Beirut (Lebanon)

One of the best moments in the life a music lover is when you come across a debut album that manages to leave you speechless. In the recent times I had this experience with I’ll be here in the morning, which is the first album released by Postcards, a dreamy-pop & indie rock band formed in Beirut, Lebanon, on late 2012. Postcards describe their music as “hushed, introspective vocals floating over expansive sonic spaces that shift between harsh noise and dreamy soundscapes“. Such definition may be a little too complex and sophisticated, but there is no doubt that the music offered in this debut LP is of absolute value and it contains many elements of innovation when taking into account the current indie pop scene. One of the most exciting aspects of the music of Postcards is that the songs are never completely defined but thery rather oscillate between moments of clarity and dark areas, with melodies that initially appear serene and peaceful but in the end contain always ambiguous (and subtly disturbing) elements. The disc is also characterized by an enjoyable alternation of intimate songs and more angry and polemical moments; everything is further enriched by excellent songwriting skills and a special musical sensibility wich gives the songs a special emotional intensity. If the band will confirm these qualities also in their future works, Postcards are destined to do great things in music.


 

#2) EVERY THIRD THOUGHT by David Duchovny

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David Duchovny, the American actor, writer, producer, director, novelist, and singer-songwriter

Every Third Thought is the second studio album of American actor and singer David Duchovny, one of those artists who challenged himself with different forms of expression and generally collecting positive results in every one of them. In addtion to looking for aliens and other mysteries, Duchovny has distinguished himself as a novelist, producer, and musician. It should be said, in this regard, that he writes and arranges his songs, thus showing qualities that go well beyond a nice presence on the stage and an interesting voice. Although I had initially some skepticism about this album, I shall say that Every Third Thought is definitely interesting and appreciable, with a few songs that are now rotating frequently in my music playlists. Compared with Duchovny’s previous release, his sound has now become more intense and definitely more “rock”, with positive effects on the quality of the album which gained variety and energy.


 

#3) BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE by The Wombats

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The Wombats, from Liverpool (England)

The Wombats, from Liverpool, have published the fourth album of their career, named Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life. Since their initial formation in 2003, the band has experienced many changes in their style: from electronic/psychedelic music to post-punk revival, arriving the current sound which blends pop-oriented melodies with elements from indie rock and alternative dance. In short, a mixture of influences and inspirations that has always guaranteed freshness and innovation to their albums, something which is somehow confirmed in their last record.  The album features a good number of extremely interesting and enjoyable pieces even if there is a certain gap in quality between the best tracks and the remaining songs of the album. This may be fine for picking up songs and composing mixes and compilations, but it makes the experience of listening to the whole album less enjoyable than it could have been with a little more focus and dedication on all single tracks.


 

#4) QUITE THE CURSE by Anna Burch

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Anna Burch, from Detroit, Michigan (USA)

Quit the Curse is the debut LP from Detroit singer/songwriter Anna Burch, and this record tells the story of a demo-tape arrived to the desk of Polyvinil during the summer of 2017, which caught the ears of the label and other artists of the caliber of Angel Olsen and The Black Keys, who eventually helped to develop the album. The songs on Quite the Curse offer a low-fi version of indie pop with basic arrangments and simple melodies. Taken individually, most of the tracks look catchy and intriguing, and they also transmit nice sensations of positivity and lightness. The album as a whole, however, tends to be a little flat and monochord and perhaps this is the aspect that the American artist should focus on in view of the future releases.


 

#5) THE THREAD THAT KEEPS US by Calexico

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Calexico, from Tucson, Arizona (USA)

It is always an important event in music when a band reaches the milestone of the tenth album of their discography and Calexico, the “desert noir” group founded more than twenty years ago by Joey Burns and John Convertino, has achieved this result in 2018 with their new album The Thread That Keeps Us. The name of the group is that of the city of Calexico, on the border between the United States and Mexico, and this choice has always represented the will of these musicians to mix genres and influences. And even in this latest album we can appreciate an enjoyable mix of Americana, folk and elements of latin music. The songs from Calexico are always interesting and intriguing and as usual,  together with many standard and traditional songs, we find in the album small sparks of experimentation. Perhaps there is a lack of a single memorable and epic song, but as a whole The Thread That Keeps Us is an enjoyable and elegant album which fully confirms the qualities of this band.


 

#6) INTROVERT’S PLIGHT by When We Land

When We Land
When We Land, from Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA)

When We Land is a four-piece indie rock band from Minneapolis, in the U.S., and Introvert’s plight is their debut LP. The band plays an accessible and soft kind of music that it’s mostly consisting of basic melodies and layers of effects. Their debut album is nice and smooth and there are a couple of catchy songs that are particularly enjoyable and that leave good hopes for the future.


 

If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in the following material that was published in the blog in the recent past:

  • The ranked list of the BEST INDIE POP ALBUMS OF 2017. The article includes a mixtape featuring all the best indie pop music released in 2017, it’s two hours of incredible music that you can’t absolutely miss.
  • There is a series of mixtapes fully dedicate to Indie Pop. It’s named CRESTS OF WAVES and it is one of the most appreciated of the S.B.G. blog. Check this out!

 

Last, but not least, I recommend you to access the beautiful CRESTS OF WAVES playlist that I manage on Spotify. It is updated frequently with only the best and latest songs.


 

 

BEST OF FOLK IN 2018, THE TOP FIVE ALBUMS / Episode 1 (February 2018)

Among the various music genres that are featured in this blog, folk music is certainly one of the most fascinating ones. With its magical balance between tradition and modernity, this kind of music always manages to make us dream of distant lands or hit us in the soul for the involving and mysterious stories it tells.

Going through the list of the best folk albums that have been published in this first part of the year, we can also discover how many different variations exist today of folk music: from the austere and authoritative style of Stick in the Wheel, to the energetic rock of Sigulka.

But before starting with the Top Five chart, let me give you the usual recommendation: if you arrived to this page from a search engine, please check if this is really the most recent edition of the chart. You can easily browse among the most recent articles for folk music by going straight to the corresponding section of the blog. This is the first list of folk albums published by S.B.G. in 2018 and it presents the best LPs that were released between the beginning of the year and the second decade of February 2018.

Enjoy!

 


 

#1) THE ART OF FORGETTING by Kyle Carey

(Celtic Folk)

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Despite being a relatively young contributor to the folk world, American songwriter Kyle Carey has already taken a prominent role among the representatives of American Celtic music, which is that special style of folk that mixes together western European sounds with American (in this case Appalachian) elements. On early 2018 she released the third full-lenght album of her discography, The Art of Forgetting, and all the good things that have been said and written of her so far are absolutely confirmed by this new record. The beauty of Carey’s last album is further enhanced by the quality of the musicians who have been called to contribute to the recording of the songs. The release notes of the LP show that Carey has called together a super team of artists. Just to mention a few ones, we have singer, violinist and banjo player Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), American guitarist Sam Broussard (from the Cajun band Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys), and Scottish folk musician and composer John McCusker.

 


 

#2) RUINS by First Aid Kit

(Country / Folk)

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First Aid Kit, the Swedish folk duo consisting of the two Söderberg sisters, released in January 2018 a new album, Ruins, which enriches an already interesting and valid discography. The album is particularly interesting because it shows a clear desire of the two sisters to experiment with new styles and directions for their music, in particular as regards the increased presence of elements of country music. Even if they’re still relatively young (the older of the two, Johanna, hasn’t reached yet her thirty years) the two Söderber sisters have already demonstrated a remarkable musical maturity, and tin this respect the songs of their latest album show a further improvement in terms of musical sensibility and songwriting skills.


 

#3) FOLLOW THEM TRUE by Stick in the Wheel

(Celtic Folk)

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Follow Them True is the second album from the English folk band Stick in the Wheel, and it arrives two years and half after their 2015’s debut work, From Here. Since the beginning of their career this quintet of folk enthusiasts has adopted an austere and formal approach to folk music, which is characterized also by the choice to use only acoustic instrumentation. As a result, their songs have Always an ancient and suggestive charm which further exalts the fantastic voice of the singer Nicola Kearey. In the new album you won’t find danceable songs or pop-folk motifs, but rather a very good collection of ancient ballads and melodies of the past, all revisited with an aggressive spirit. Only in some moments the tension and the austherity seem to leave the field for slightly more relaxed and poetic tones, and perhaps these are the most accessible and enjoyable parts of the disc, at least for the casual listener.


 

#4) SYMBOLS by Sigulka

(Folk Rock)

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Sigulka is a rock band from Spain which has crafted a very unique style of music, that  may be summarized as a mix of hard rock and heavy metal but deeply rooted into the celtic tradition. Their sound is also very particular because of the composition of the line-upwhich features a violinist as a stable member, and also for the extensive use of acoustic instruments. The new album from the band, Symbols, is a nice collection of accessible and generally enjoyable songs. Maybe the rhythms are a bit too slow and in the long run the songs tend to look too much similar, but there are still some interesting moments such as the song On Fire, which is one of the best tracks of the album.


 

#5) BETWEEN TWO SHORES by Glen Hansard

(Folk / Songwriter)

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Glen Hansard is one of those artists who have too much creativity for remaining anchored to a single form of expression and in fact, in his career, we’ve met him playing many different roles: folk guitarist, singer, songwriter, and actor. In his latest solo album, Between Two Shores, we see him engaged with a very wide range of musical styles, from classic rock to peaceful and intimate folk. Probably, when compared to his previous releases, the new LP shows a little less brilliance and freshness, and not every song is interesting in the same way. The most energetic pieces are maybe the most successful tracks on the record.


 

If you liked this post, you could be interested also in the following articles:

  • MELANCHOLIC FOLK, because not every day is bright and shiny.
  • Could the Kyuss song “Odyssey” be inspired by a Scottish ballad from the 1700s?

 


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: THE BEST SONGWRITERS AND FOLK MUSICIANS OF 2017

In the meantime that we listen and select the new albums of 2018, let’s continue the roundup of the best works that were published last year. This time it’s the turn of folk, here expanded to include the broader family of songwriters who also engage themselves with pop and rock.

As a foreword, let’s just say that 2017 was not a particularly memorable year for this genre of music, especially because of a large number of albums that – despite the high expectations – didn’t leave the mark that we were expecting at the beginning. Reading the list of artists who published last year (Fleet Foxes, Mark Lanegan, Sun Kil Moon, Robert Plant) we really expected the fireworks. In the end, except for some interesting songs, the records released by these artists have left us quite cold. Fortunately a group of fierce girls intervened to improve the situation, and was relatively easy for them to conquer the top positions of the chart.

 


 

Number 10

COMMON AS LIGHT AND LOVE ARE RED VALLEYS OF BLOOD by Sun Kil Moon

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Sun Kil Moon, the folk rock project led by American singer and songwriter Mark Kozelek, released in the recent past a couple of challenging but oustanding albums (Among the Leaves, in 2012, and Benji, in 2014). Many (including myself) were really impressed by these two masterpieces, which presented something really new in the music scene but also a very engaging kind of muisc. From that moment on, unfortunately, Kozelek has decided to embark on an strange path which his songs to become long monologues, leaving most of the music in the background.

The last album released by the band, Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, is basically a 130 minutes collection of self-reflective considerations and polemics over today’s life. The album contains however a few surprisingly great moments, which allow the disk to find a position in this ranking but – most important – still leave some light for the future of what was one of the most interesting music projects of the recent years.


 

Number 9

SEMPER FEMINA by Laura Marling

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British singer-songwriter Laura Marling is nowadays an established figure in folk music, and with her last album Semper Femina she has reached the important achievement of six solo albums, that’s quite impressive considering that she’s only 27 years old. Despite the young age, the times of her “innocent creativity” are now lost and she artist has now embarked into a more ambitious and articulated musical approach. With still good results,

Laura Marling’s last effort is a profound and quite complex exploration of women world and also female relationships. Fortunately the British musician managed to keep a certain distance from an excessive conceptuality and she instead succeeded in giving interest and pleasurness to the different tracks of the album.


 

Number 8

CARRY FIRE by Robert Plant

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Robert Plant, the legendary singer of the rock band Led Zeppelin, is certainly not an artist who has settled on the achievements he reached at the height of his career. And for a musician who was even nominated as the best vocalist of all times, it’s really impressive to see how his indomitable spirit has always led him to continue experimenting, exploring the less accessible corners of rock and folk, with alternate successes.

With this new album, Carry Fire, Robert Plant arrives at the eleventh studio album of his post-Led Zeppelin phase. In this occasion, the relentless journey of this incredible artist has led him to delve into an area of folk which results extremely melancholic and intimate. Plant’s creative and experimental vein didn’t generate the same results in all the songs of the album, but the stylistic coherence of the artist and a couple of particularly successful songs still manage to elevate the disc well above the average level of quality of what we usually hear in this genre of music.


 

Number 7

CRACK-UP by Fleet Foxes

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Crack-Up is the new studio album by American indie folk masters Fleet Foxes and the third entry of their discography. The guys from Seattle became extremely popular after their incredible 2008’s self-titled debut album, which is still today one of the most appreciated and innovative indie folk albums ever released in music. Both the two following works (including the last release) didn’t mach the beauty and creativity of their debut (“a landmark in American music — an instant classic” as stated by The Guardian) and their music has become increasingly complex and less immediate.

Hidden inside their latest disc we still find a few gems of folk that seem to shine of the same light which illuminated the beginning of their career. As an overall effort, however, the album looks too  much as a conceptual work and offers a version of folk that results very little engaging, light years away from the early steps of the band.


 

Number 6

GARGOYLE by Mark Lanegan

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Gargoyle, the new work by Mark Lanegan and his bandmates, was one of the most waited albums of the last year. Lanegan has built over the years the fame of one of the most interesting singers in the rock and folk scenes, not only for his very particular and fascinating voice but also for the enjoyability and the intensity of his albums, that often feature a wide range of high-level guest stars. In this respect, Gargoyle doesn’t reserve particular surprises: we have a bunch of very nice songs, we have Lanegan’s unique voice, and also many good musicians who have contributed, including Josh Homme (ex-Kyuss and leader of the Queens of the Stone Age), Greg Dulli and Duke Garwood.

The new album from the American singer-songwriter, however, shows the artist consolidating his legacy without breathing new life into the standard forms of folk he established in the last decade. In this respect the album seems a small step back when compared with Lanegan’s previous work – the more innovative and inspired 2014’s Phantom Radio, which in my opinion is still one of the best “Folktronic” albums of the last few years.


 

Number 5

POSSIBILITES AT SEA by Blake Hazard

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American singer and songwriter Blake Hazard has shown since the early years of her career a musical sensibility that is out of the ordinary, both in her solo works and in the important collaborations where she’s been involved so far, including of course her participation in the indie rock band The Submarines with John Dragonetti, who’s also been her life partner for a few years.

Possibilities at Sea, which is Blake Hazard’s new solo album, is a fantastic and exciting journey in the world of modern folk, with interesting diversions into indie rock and alternative. The record reveals the class and talent of the artist but it’s also one of those albums gifted by that genuine feeling which can result only from many years of playing in small clubs.


 

Number 4

LOTTA SEA LICE by Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

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Australian indie rocker Courtney Barnett has joined efforts with American songwriter Kurt Vile to release in 2017 one of the best collaborative albums of the year, named Lotta Sea Lice.

The album succeeds where many musical collaborations fail: the two artists managed in fact to integrate their different compositional approaches and singing techniques and the amalgam resulting from this joint work is ultimately a musical style in itself, complete and well-characterized. A confirmation of this achievement can be recognized by the fact that both the original tracks and the few covers which have been reintepreted by the duo are hard to distinguish from each other


 

Number 3

THE GREAT PLAINS by Thomas Dybdahl

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Norwegian singer and songwriter Thomas Dybdahl is without any doubt one of the most interesting representative of the neo folk movement. Often compared to Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake for the elegant way with which he touches the themes of love and loss, Dybdahl confirmed all of his skills and sensibility in the new album The Great Plains, which arrives four years after his previous LP, the wonderful What’s Left is Forever.

One of the most interesting features of the music composed by Thomas Dybdahl is the natural way in which he manages to move between relatively energetic pieces to more intimate tracks without ever losing intensity and depth. There are also a number of different influences which are merged into his songs, such as some clear inserts from Americana and indie pop.

Compared to Dybdahl‘s previous works, The Great Plains seems to indulge a little more on warm and nostalgic atmospheres, but in the end we must recognize that the acoustic tracks are the most successful of this very valid album.


 

Number 2

I’M NOT YOUR MAN by Marika Hackman

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Marika Hackman is a young English singer-songwriter whose debut album, the 2005’s We Slept at Last, showed to the world her talent as singer but also her delicate and atmospheric folk style. Her last recent release, the beautiful I’m Not Your Man, confirmed her ability to mix together traditionally english-folk atmospheres with alternative-rock elements. In my opinion her second album is even more convincing than the debut LP and there are at least 4-5 songs of absolute quality.

The first singles that were shared from the album were more oriented towards the mainstream indie pop (Boyfriend and My Lover Cindy). I’m Not Your Man, however, features also a number of more atmospherical and melodical tracks that in my opinion are among the best things we heard last year.


 

Number 1

LIFE, LOVE, FLESH, BLOOD by Imelda May

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Life Love Flesh Blood, which is the last full-lenght published by Irish singer and songwriter Imelda May,  may be described in a few words as one of the best collection of songs released in 2017, across all genres. In her fifteen years of career, Imelda has earned a strong reputation as one of the best folk and rock singers of our time and this new work further consolidates all the positive things that have been said so far about her.

Initially affirmed with a rockabilly-oriented musical style, Imelda May has slowly shifted towards a peculiar and enjoyable soft rock with the incremental introduction of elements coming from the folk tradition. The last album signs the definitive change in her musical direction and sees the artist engaged with a number of country and folk ballads of absolute value and a few other catchy soft rock tracks which complete the LP. In all the two kinds of song her splendid voice is combined with a particularly intense melodic vein of the music, and the final result is extremely satisfactory.

The album topped the charts of this blog since the day of its release in April of last year, so it’s absolutely no surprise to see Imelda May guiding this ranked list after the conclusion of 2017.


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC IN 2017

Carrying on the long journey through the best musical publications of the past year, we arrive to the important chapter of electronic music, which is by large one of the most heterogeneous but at the same time one that always manages to give us great surprises and which usually brings with it an healthy dose of experimentation.

The judgment that I had made in my head about 2017 was of a fairly irregular year. Alongside some periods that have been positive and rich of interesting releases, there were others which resulted extremely flat, with very few if not even no significant album. But when I found myself assembling and selecting the top 10 albums of the year, I had to recognize that in absolute terms, the one which has just ended was an extremely good year for electronic music.

Let’s see then which are the ten best electronic music records published in 2017, ranked from the bottom to the top.


 

Number 10

WHAT IF by Hauschka

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We start this list of the ranked albums with an LP that was really hard to classify. It’s included in the electronic category beacause of a greater assonance with the genre, but to be honest in this musical work there is really a lot more than just electronics. Therefore, defining What If as a simple electronic album is somehow a limitation and it could be also misleading for some listeners.

German pianist Volker Bertelmann, who’s the man behind the stage name Hauschka, is mostly known for his compositions for prepared piano, i.e. a piano that has had its sound altered by placing objects on or between the strings (in this case scraps of aluminum, ping-pong balls and other household items). On his new album, which is the eighth of his career, Hauschka plays the prepared piano in combination of other keyboards instruments such as a Yamaha’s high-tech player piano and a 1970s-vintage Roland analog synthesizer, and such a blending of new and old Technologies is used by the artist to generate singular but still accessible pieces of modern music. The real peculiarity of this author is that he transforms the piano into a mechanical instrument: a source of sounds which are at times delicate and sometimes disturbing. The result is a combination of multiple layers of minimal and introspective music which manage to evoke different and sometimes contrasting feelings.


 

Number 9

PLUNGE by Fever Ray

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Danis singer and producer Karin Dreijer has always created works that lie on the thin border between traditional music and experimentation and this happens both when she plays with her broter in the electronic duo The Knife and when she frees all his creative spirit in the solo project named Fever Ray. Her new album Plunge – which arrived as a surprise in last October – makes no exception.

Plunge is the second album from Fever Ray and it follows the debut LP that was released more than six years ago. From listening to her record it is clear that during this time the Swedish artist has acquired further courage and confidence in her own talents. First, we recognize a greater variety of styles and references in the songs of the album, but we can also appreciate – much more than in the debut work – her beautiful voice, which today is much less hidden under layers of effects and alterations.

Plunge is definitely an interesting and engaging album, perhaps with the only limit of challenging the listener to go through extremely different genres and styles. Basically, aside to some more accessible tracks we find a series of much more experimental songs, not always at the same level of the others.


 

Number 8

WORLD EATER by Blanck Mass

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Blank Mass is the electronic solo project by the English DJ and producer Benjamin John Power, who is mainly known for being one of the two founders of the experimental duo Fuck Buttons (where he plays together with Andrew Hung). World Eater is the new album released by Blank Mass, and the third in the discography of this music project (there are actually a number of other releases as EPs and soundtracks).

For those who are familiar with the earlier work by this artist, both when he plays alone or within the Fuck Buttons, you know what to expect: a sonic attack with mesmeric repetitions and industrial inserts. And this record, in fact, is no exception. The album contains seven interesting tracks that move between noise and experimentation, all seasoned with a good dose of sonic violence.

A particular aspect of this album is that Power tried to work with a limited set of electronic tools, trying to focus the development of his songs with a small number of effects. And the result is very interesting and enjoyable to listen.


 

Number 8

UNUNIFORM by Tricky

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Conceived in Russia and produced in Berlin (his new adopted capital), the new LP by English trip-hop master Tricky is maybe one of the more claustrophobic and dark of the thirteen records in his discography, as indeed announced by the same album cover. The production notes tell us about an artist that embarked into a journey to confront his legacy: history, family – even death itself. And in all of this, he found the strangest, least familiar thing – peace.

The LP has received mixed reactions from the critics and surely it doesn’t have much to do with the early masterpieces of the artist. But these were other times, for Tricky and for us too.  And if it remains always a great pleasure to brush up the great successes of this artist and play them to brighten a special moment of the day, it is however Tricky’s last album the one that can play the soundtrack of our times.


 

Number 7

SOIREE DELUXE by Tape Five

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Last year we’ve seen a clear resurgence of high quality electro-swing and it is not by chance that we have in this chart, one after the other, two worthy representatives of this musical genre. German collective Tape Five claim to be the co-inventors of the electro-swing and Soiree Deluxe is the 6th studio album of the project.

Beyond the bold statements from the band, it is beyond doubt that these guys have found the perfect recipe to mix together virbant electronic beats with swing jazz, bossa nova, reggae and other multiple influences. The album is a collection of refreshing tracks that are enriched with marvellous performance from very skilled musicians (mostly horn sections and singers). A special positive characteristic of the album is the high number of very good tracks that you will find inside. Very rarely I find myself liking so many tracks from a single work, and this is one of these few cases.


 

Number 5

THE BURNING SPIDER by Parov Stelar

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Parov Stelar is the stage name for Marcus Füreder, an Austrian musician, producer and DJ which gained popularity and success in the electronics industry as one of the pioneers of “electro-swing”. In his productions he mixes with great skill disparate elements from house music, dance and even some fragments of jazz. It’s worth saying that Parov Stelar is Austria’s most successful international artist and won 7 Amadeus Austrian Music Awards. His unique sound, his specific approach to music production and the unorthodox combination of musical genres soon made him the star of an uprising scene.

In the last years he released a number of good and captivating albums, almost one every year. The album he published in 2017 is named The Burning Spider and it is another great collection of enjoyable and variegated electro-swing tracks together with more conventional dance-pop tracks.


 

Number 4

OKOVI by Zola Jesus

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Nika Roza Danilova, better known with her stage name of Zola Jesus, represents one of those artists who, although gifted of a fantastic voice that could have guaranteed her a brilliant career in pop or rock, decided instead to devote herself to the world of experimentation and avant-garde, which is definitely more challenging from an artistic point of view view but at the end of the day gave her a fame which is definitely minor than what she would have achieved – presumably – with mainstream music. The association with the case of Bjork is almost immediate. But if the Icelanding singer has shifted with the years towards an increasingly extreme, conceptual and essentially less immediate style of music, with Zola Jesus – fortunately I would say – we’re apparently going through a different process. Her beautiful latest album, in fact, has the capacity to hit us directly to the heart for passion and immediacy, in a way that’s quite unique in her discography. Experimentation, in this case, really seems devoted for transmitting the profound message that the artist wants to convey, rather than to represent a mere stylistic tool or a way to elevate – artificially – the artistic quality of her offer.

Okovi, which is Zola Jesus’ fifth album, arrives three years after her previous LP and represents the result of an experience of isolation and retreat into her hometown in Wisconsin.


 

Number 3

SAVAGE SINUSOID by Igorrr

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I was expecting this album for ages. And when it arrived, it delivered. Igorrr is a unique project, led by one of those musical innovators who appear once every generation. And the last album produced by Gautier Serre and his supporting musicians, Savage Sinusoid, is simply a masterpiece of experimentation and electronic madness.

There is no way to properly capture Igorrr’s sound and style by just words, the best you can do – if you’re not familiar with the production from these crazy Frenchmen – is to visit their bandcamp page and start exploring their rich discography. If this is not your first encounter with the band, you already know what to expect with Savage Sinusoid.

There is however some evolution with the previous works, in particular for what concern the level of experimentation they do with the basic elements of the songs. In the early works of their discography you could see that the starting point of the song (whether it was an harpsichord sonata by Scarlatti or a popular Balkan dance) was just the beginning of an exploratory journey that could eventually lead to something really different. In their last album, the amount of experimentation seems a little bit reduced and the original baselines are more present throughout each of the songs, giving even more diversity to the different tracks of the album.

From a technical point of view the album is “sample free”, meaning that everything you listen in the album has been played or generated for the purpose of the disc. You really need to see the “making of” videos on YouTube to understand how Igorrr play and record their songs. Alternatively, the official video for the song Cheval gives an hint on their unique style.

In summary… this is not music for everyone: it requires mental opening, curiosity and sense of wonder to go beyond the chaos. Listened with the right spirit, Savage Sinusoid can certainly provide the strongest emotions of all the records mentioned in this ranking.


 

Number 2

SHIKANTAZA by Chinese Man

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Since the first moment I played this album on last February, I realized that this was going to be a long-term companion throughout the year. And now that we turned into 2018, it’s no surprise that Shikantaza, the last release by the electronic collective Chinese Man, is well within the top three positions of the Electronic Chart.

With this album, the French trip-hop-influenced rap collective has realized a woderful and perfectly balanced mix of funky, groove, hip-hop and many other fragements of musical genres and ethnic references. The are a few songs that stand out for their brilliance and creativity, but at the end it is the average level of all the tracks which leave us speechless.

Shikantaza is an album made to be listened and listened again, this is one of those albums that you can easily play in the background during your day for hours and hours and never get tired of listening to it. But sometimes you will find yourself turning up the volume and dancing alone like a fool, captured by one of the many vintage rhythms that punctuate the entire disc.


 

Number 1

THE ASSASSINATION OF JULIUS CAESAR by Ulver

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It’s not easy to categorize the music from Ulver, the Norwegian experimental musical collective that is nowadays approaching 25 years of activity. If their early works explored the realms of black and folk metal, with the passing of time they have initiated an incredible and ambitious exploration of other musical genres, including ambient, electronica, and neoclassical. In 2017, with their last work named The Assassination of Julius Caesar, the band is experimenting with synthpop and EDM. The result is brilliant, as if the four Norwegians were long-term and celebrated artists of this genre and not the neophytes of this type of music as they are in reality.

The album manages to combine an incredible fluidity of sounds with a unique and truly elegant musical elegance, something that’s really challenging and not easy to achieve with electronic music.

Maybe the best way to indicate how brilliant and fantastic is this album could be to check the positive reviews that The Assassination of Julius Caesar received within the metal world. It is really unfrequent to have a band that abandons its starting musical genre in such a radical way, but without leaving any resentment and disgust in a community that is so rigid and sometimes intransigent like that of heavy metal –  which I also belong to, in some way. 


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF ALTERNATIVE ROCK IN 2017

In the meantime that the first albums of 2018 arrive to our music players, let’s continue the review of the best music that was released last year.

Among the music genres that during 2017 have seen the highest number of publications of excellent level, Alternative Rock holds one of the leading positions. The one that just ended was a notable year for the most agitated brother in the wide family of rock and roll , with a series of great albums that arrived with an almost constant cadence from the first months of the year up to the last weeks of December.

Selecting the top ten albums of the year was not an easy task. At the end I tried to find a certain balance between a number of major bands which confirmed, or even improved, the positive consideration they built during the last years, and a few debut works from new bands or side projects. The overall quality of the resulting chart is impressive.

And for better representing the state of alternative rock in 2017 I prepared a special compilation, in the form of a mixtape, where the best tracks of the past year are mixed together into a single stream of music. These are 50 minutes with the most energetic and catchy alternative rock of the last year, featuring the bands in the top ten list but also the other formations which contributed to make 2017 such a special year for rock and roll.

 

Last, but not least, you can enjoy the best alt-rock tracks in the dedicated playlist I maintain on Spotify. This will be updated with the new tracks of 2018, therefore I recommend for you to follow the playlist and check it regularly.


 

Number 10

ALL IS IN SYNC AND THERE’S NOTHING LEFT TO SING ABOUT by Ghost Atlas

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Ghost Atlas is the side project from Jesse Cash, the American singer and guitarist who’s primarily known for being one of the founders of the progressive metalcore band ErraAll is in sync, and there’s nothing left to sing about is the first LP from Ghost Atlas and it follows two previous EPs.

Those arriving to Ghost Atlas from the original works of Jesse Cash will appreciate on this album the melodic side of this multifaceted artist. For all the others, this LP represents a very interesting compilation of relatively accessible and energetic alt-rock tracks. Keeping a good rhythm throughout the record, Cahs offers us a very pleasant sequence of catchy tracks where he tells us about his feelings, his emotions and experiences.

As a side note, it’s interesting to say that Cash opted for a fully indipendent and self-funded route for the production of his work, actually investing thousand of dollars in this venture.


 

Number 9

ONCE MORE IS ALL I AM by Face The King

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I engaged with this album with pure chance and, as it often happens, unknown bands in certain situations can give you the most interesting surprises. Face the King present themselves as an alternative hard rock band based out of Long Island, New York, with influences ranging from Kings of Leon to Radiohead.

This four piece band is active since more than 5 years but Once More I Am is their first full-lenght album. Before arriving to this debut, however, they have refined and consolidated their style by playing both in their home area and also sharing the stage with major bands in the context of tours and festivals. There has been also an EP, named The Sound, that could be find from the band.

From a musical point of view, the music from this band offers a refreshing variant to that side of alternative rock which looks for mainstream sounds and – potentially – large audiences. Given this promising debut, with a little luck these guys could even make it.

 


 

Number 8

AS YOU PLEASE by Citizen

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With the album As You Please, Ohio rockers Citizen arrive to the third album in their discography, a stage that usually marks the transition to the final musical maturity of a band. But in this case, to be honest, it seems that the direction taken by the group after their two previous interesting works is still unclear. It’s like if there was the desire to remove that label of pop-punk band that somehow marked the first steps of the lineup, but without the capacity to find a completely original way to complete the transition towards a particular and unique vision of music.

In the meantime that this process completes, however, the band managed to drop in this new album a couple of songs that by themselves remain among the most pleasant things we heard in rock during 2017. Listening to these pieces one really gets the impression of the group’s still unexpressed potential. The effort of the band to evolve (and elevate) their sound is evident, but the results are not yet to show the level of success they hoped for.


 

Number 7

Rainer Maria (S/T)

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More than 10 years afther their previous release and the group dissolution following their last concert in Brooklyin (it was December 2006), the American rock trio Rainer Maria comes back to the scene with a self-titled album, which is at this point the sixth long-play work of their discography.

One of the interesting aspects of this release is that it looks as the ideal continuation of the musical journey that the band initiated from the initial raw and punk sounds of their early years into the more polished and refined style of rock that the band was approaching at the ten-years stage of career, which was also the time of their break up. It is from that specific point in time that the group has resumed their path, and the result is an interesting album that expresses emotions and complexity at the same time.

This looks as a new beginning for the band. Some of the members of the trio went through important experiences and radical changes in these years of silence (even a change of sex), but their music seems to start exactly where we left them ten years ago.


 

Number 6

NIGHT PEOPLE by You Me At Six

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One of the first albums that was reviewed last year on the blog, Night People by English rock band You Me at Six confirmed after many months and many listens the good impressions that I had at the time of its release. This work, which is the fifth album in the band’s discography, is particularly relevant because it signs a clear shift in the musical direction of the group with the incorporation of heavier and darker sounds. This change, to be frank, generated mixed reactions from both fans and critics, not always positive.

To be considered presumably as a transition album, Night People contains however a few songs that enter without any doubts among the best compositions ever released by the band. As a matter of fact, some tracks of this album have been an almost constant presence in the rock compilations that were published on the blog.

The process of evolution which the band embarked from the pop-rock of their first albums into the current style of alternative rock appears to me as a genuine and natural transformation of their musical approach, maybe still to be completed and consolidated but capable to offer more depth and emotional charge to their music. The band is moving, and it does not seem like an artificial maneuver.


 

Number 5

STORMCHASERS by Lucky Boys Confusion

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With Stormchaser, the new and long awaited album from the American rockers Lucky Boys Confusion, we add another entry in the special club of those bands which have interrrupted in 2017 a long period of absence from the studio. This album arrives in fact about ten years after the last LP from the group, which has been however engaged in a number of live shows in the meantime.

From a musical point of view, Stormchaser features the band’s signature mix of multiple influences: from alternative rock to pop punk, passing through indie pop and also some flavour of reggae. Rhythms are generally fast and dynamics, although in some sections of the disc there are a few slowdowns – which are also the least successful parts of the LP, in my opinion.

A special mention goes to Burn a Little Brighter, which is not only one of the most interesting tracks of the LP, but also one of the best alternative songs of the past year.


 

Number 4

MOSAIC by 311

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Three years after their last LP, veteran alternative rockers 311 (three-eleven) came back with another excellent release. Their last work, named Mosaic, is the twelfth studio album of their long career and it required only a few days after its release before it received very good reviews from both music critics and fans.

The band has achieved a very good recognition in the alternative rock scene for their smooth but energetic rock anthems, most often featuring very nice and enjoyable influences from reggae and ska. And their last production definitely confirms their unique skill in mastering so many different genres into a captivating and coherent package of songs.

Possibly one of the most complete rock albums of the last year, Mosaic keeps the band’s unique rap/rock/reggae mix alive and at same time introduces a few additional elements in their palette of sounds which make the album somehow new and refreshing.


 

Number 3

Navier Gene (S/T)

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Navier Gene is the one-man-project ideated by Eddi Pickard, a name that probably does not say anything significant to the majority of people since – so far – he only distinguished himself as a valid guitar player within small and medium-sized metal bands such as Black Tounge and Infant Annihilator. Listening his recent slef-titled LP, however, we immediately realize that Eddi is actually graced by a creativity and songwriting skills that go much more beyond the simple boundaries of death metal. As a matter of fact, at his first try as a soloist, he dropped one of the best rock albums of the past year. Chapeau!

What’s really impressive in this work is the ability of the artist to reach out and take the influence from many different rock genres, from the stoner of the first song to alternative rock and grunge, but always maintaining a personal and recognizable approach, absorbing thus the inspirations from the various styles he addresses but without becoming succube to them.

This was for me the masterpiece which came out from nowhere. An happy surprise which deservedly won a place in the Top 3 of its genre.


 

Number 2

MODERN RUIN by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

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One of the most cited albums in the blog during 2017, Modern Ruin by Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes features a perfect blend of many different genresand in fact for some time the LP bounced between the alternative rock and punk charts, before finding its definitive home here in the alternative rock page.

This is the second album released by the new band capitanated by former Gallows frontman Frank Carter, here supported by Dean Richardson, Thomas Mitchener and Gareth Grover (The Rattlesnakes). Released almost one year ago – it was January 2017 –  Modern Ruin immediately topped all the music charts of this blog. It’s an incredible compilation of energetic and catchy songs supported by an perfect sound which magnifies the fantastic voice of the band leader. And despite the ups and downs in the charts, this is a release that can’t really miss in your collection of the best music of the past year.


 

Number 1

WOLVES by Rise Against

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The disc that occupies the top position in the chart was initially one of the surprises of the past year when it was released in June 2017. Certainly not because the group was not known to me –  actually they’re active since many years and have a wide discography of musical releases – rather because the music featured within their last album showed since the firts listens something very interesting and particular .

Wolves, the latest album by American rock band Rise Against, is full to the brink of the band’s signature and explosive formula where aggressive punk and hardcore sounds are combined with fiery vocals and furious choruses, typical of alternative rock. With the exception of a couple of catchy songs, however, the album needs some repeated listening to be appreciated in its entirety. Or at least this was my personal experience…. I had to go through the album a few times before getting involved at the right level by the record’s eleven tracks. Steadily and incessantly, the album climbed on the top of my preferences and eventually reached the top position in its genre.

 

Besides the absolute beauty of its best tracks, the album in its entirety to be characterized by a very high quality of music and lyrics. Rise Against play a very effective and powerful rock and the value of their production goes well beyond the politic message they convey with their songs.


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF PUNK ROCK IN 2017

2017 has been full of great, epic and poetic moments in music. And it’s nice to end it with a party! Let’s review which have been the most energetic, infectious and funny punk rock albums of the year. The recipe here is simple, the mission effective: rock fast, rock hard, no compromises.

You will find in this Top Ten a bunch of different styles of punk, from the street punk of English veteran street bands to the interesting mix of punk with ska or Balkan music. In each of these different types of rock you will find however the same passion and the same will to give strong emotions, direct, without too many filters.

And to better complement the experience, here you can find a mixtape with the best punk of the year, selected and mixed into one single stream of energy. I’ve made many mixes in 2017. I’m proud to say that this is one of the best I did! Enjoy it, and see you next year 😉


 

Number 10

MOMENTUM by GBH

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One of the most pleasant surprises of the year was to find out that GBH, the band of English street punk veterans, was about to release a new studio album. Momentum, their twelfth studio album, arrives seven years after the previous LP, Perfume and Piss, and it’s nice to see that over the years their music still doesn’t lose interest at all.

The music played by GBH is raw, genuine and fresh as only old school punkers can do nowadays. As their fans know well, the band’s sound has undergone a series of changes over the course of their long career, incorporating over time a range of influences from other genres, such as metal. In the last couple of decades their sound has stabilized over a special kind of dirty and abrasive street punk, able to generate a very impressive level of power. Sparse into the album we also find a couple of more accessible and captivating tracks with anthems and catchy riffs.

GBH is one of those rare bands for which it can be said that there is no bad album in their discography. And their latest work certainly does not change the rule.


 

Number 9

FOREVER by Cock Sparrer

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It almost seems that members of the club of British punk veterans have agreed to present themselves together in this ranking: after the legendary GBH, we have in the next position another historical band from England. Cock Sparrer is a band of punk rock veterans that was formed in 1972 in the East End of London. The band has released in 2017 a new album, called Forever, which arrived 10 years after their previous LP. The lineup of the band is almost stable since 25 years, and these rockers managed to realize a strong, vibrant, and damn enjoyable compilation of punk songs.

After so many years spent together playing their favorite music, Cock Sparrer clearly don’t feel the need to change their winning formula: honest and genuine street punk enriched by an enjoyable melodic lines and mature lyrics. And listening to the songs on Forever, we clearly realize that groups like these are used to release a record only when they recognize that they have quality material in their hands. It is no coincidence, in fact, that although their first record was released about 40 years ago, with the last work their discography marks the relatively small number of only 7 albums.


 

Number 8

WILD CAT by Danko Jones

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Wild Cat is the eighth studio album by Danko Jones, which is the Canadian rock trio led by vocalist and guitarist Danko Jones supported by John ‘JC’ Calabrese on bass guitar and Rich Knox on drums. The band is active since almost 20 years, and this is one of those groups that didn’t reach the attention of their fans because of changes and innovations in their music. And this last album is no exception. Wild Cat gives us in fact just another bunch of furious and totally enjoyable “macho” rock-party anthems. These guys draw on an inexhaustible source of catchy rock melodies and they just keep doing what they can do best, without too many frills or ambitions for musical evolution.

In addition to this successful and field-proven recipe, the Canadians have understood very well how important may be an excellent production for the success of an album,especially if accessibility and immediate enjoyability are among the main features of your songs. Wild Cat benefits from a perfect recording which is consistent with their style and which gives an further element of merit to their work.


 

Number 7

AMERICAN BEAUTY by CJ Ramone

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CJ Ramone was the “young guy” within the Ramones and also the last one to join the legendary band in the last ten years of their influential career. After the American punkers retired, CJ for some time played and singed in a few Ramones’ cover band and he eventually started a solo career, which as per today has already generated a few albums. American Beauty is the last release of CJ Ramone’s solo production and the third album of his studio discography.

As you might expect, CJ has kept the Ramones in his heart and the music he plays is basically what his fans want to hear: simple and straight punk rock. It would be really a complete madness to compare CJ’s songs to those of Ramones: there is honestly an abyss that can’t be filled even by calling the support from other punk veterans as his backings. But at the same time it’s not crazy to say that American Beauty, judged as a stand-alone product, doesn’t look bad when compared to today’s rock scene, where it rather brings a breath of freshness and immediacy.


 

Number 6

SEEKERS AND FINDERS by Gogol Bordello

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Gogol Bordello, the gipsy punk rockers from Manhattan, have crafted and consolidated through the years a unique musical blend of balkan beats and gipsy melodies played with a punk rock attitude. Their last album, Seekers and Finders, doesn’t find the band moving away from this succesful formula and it has been recorded in a way that reproduces, to some extent, the sound and vibrations of their legendary live gigs.

This group is certainly neither the only one nor the first to blend punk rock with other musical genres. Their technique, in any case, is one that manages to preserve the emotions and the beauty of the starting genres, producing a result that is typically something new and extremely interesting.

From a musical point of view the songs of this album settle on decidedly moderate rhythms, diluting in this case the original dynamics of street punk into structures that are more typical of ballads and blues. It must be said, however, that music played by Gogol Bordello is certainly unique and there are no others aroun who play (or who can play) this type of songs. Their style is recognizable from afar, always interesting and engaging. As a matter of fact, this is an approach to rock that only such an heterogeneous group of immigrants could develop.


 

Number 5

11 STORIES OF PAIN AND GLORY by Dropkick Murphys

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Hardcore Celtic-Punkers Dropkick Murphys shoudn’t need too much introduction. These guys from Massachussets have been rocking the scene for over twenty years and their last album, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, is the ninth of their long career.

Musically speaking, this work presents their signature irish-inspired rock sound, without any particulr innovation or diversion from the winning recipe that they have been perfectioning through time: catchy anthems, celtic rocking melodies, fast and fun energetic song.

Beyond the purely musical aspect, it shall be said that the album is inspired from the efforts that the band have spent in support of the “The Claddagh Fund”, a charity organization which the band established since 2009 for actively helping the drug recovery community and other children’s and veteran’s organizations. As a result, most of the tracks are permeated with a sense of positive energy, a sort of encouragement to go beyond the little or big failures that we may encounter in our lives. And if this is not going to be the best album ever released by the band, it’s still a solid and valuable work which contains quite a good number of very high quality songs.


 

Number 4

IN THE END by Nothington

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In The End, which is the most recent studio album from the San Francisco alternative-punk rockers Nothington, is another album of this chart which interrupts a long period of silence from the band. The LP terminates a hiatus of almost five years since their last studio release and it arrives when the band is celebrating ten years of activity. Not so much compared with other veteran bands of this list but still relevant in the rock scene.

Born on the ashes of their former band Tsunami Bomb, Nothington’s founders Gabe Lindeman and Jay Northington have developed through the years a special and successful mix of catchy end energetic rock which allowed them to gain a relatively high commercial success and which also elevated them as one of the most important rock groups coming from the Bay Area.

In this new work the two musicians resume exactly from where they left, with the same winning formula of radio-friendly catchy rock and melodic punk-rock anthems. There are a few moments in the album where the tones are a bit more thoughful and introspective, but the essence of the album is definitely on the energy side.


 

Number 3

LAUNE DER NATUR by Die Toten Hosen

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I was honestly surprised when I first heard Laune der Nature (Freak of Nature), the new album from German punk rock veterans Die Toten Hosen, which is the seventeenth studio album from the band. I was fascinated by the freshness and immediacy of the songs, and it’s clear that the guys from Dusseldorf still have a lot to say after so many years of playing together.

The band became famous for their heavy political approach to punk. Their last album, however, seems less involved with politics and more focused on the music itself. Initially regarded as a curiosity because of the language and the particular kind of melodic punk played by the German rockers, all the other qualities of the album emerged after repeated listens and it’s no coincidence that slowly but steadily this record has climbed the various rock charts that were regularly published on the blog, winning at the end a prestigious position among the best three albums of its genres.

Laune der Nature may be really regarded as one of the best and most refreshing album of 2017 and it’s a recommended listen in particular for those that are not familiar with these German punkers. Sehr gut!


 

Number 2

AMERICAN FALL by Anti-Flag

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I am very well aware of the risk that I take by presenting at the beginning of the chart a pair of albums from historical groups of English street punk like GBH and the Cock Sparrow, and placing in the highest positions two American groups like Anti-Flag and Goldfinger. and somehow I am ready for the criticisms that I may receive from the extremists and purists of punk rock, those who surely would never put on the same level (or even on a higher plane) groups with cultures and musical approaches that are so distant.

But for a whole year I chose the best songs to be included in the rock playlists and mixtapes, and I know very well that there have been a few records from which I could pick up an impressive number of excellent songs. I’m not ashamed to say that the best results in rock are achieved when beauty, energy and pleasantness manage to be married with a more mainstream approach.

American Fall, the latest album by American punk-activist Anti-Flag, has received so far mixed reactions from music criticts. Some are not completely convinced of the way in which serious and complex issues such as those addressed by the songs of the band are conveyed with such catchy and immediate kind of music. The style of the band, indeed, has lost part of the abrasiveness and low-fi spirit of the beginnings, but the overall impact remains one of the most energetic and engaging of the current scene.

The overall offer of this album does not differ from the music that we would have expected from the band, at least with their latest works in mind. But being able to toss out infectious and explosive songs like the ones that these guys from Pennsylvania keep grinding on their albums is something absolutely incredible, at least to me.


 

Number 1

THE KNIFE by Goldfinger

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What can one expect from a rock formation which spent the last nine years without any new music and in the meantime 3 of the original 4 members were kicked out from the band? These were the premises for The Knife, the new and long-awaited studio album by Goldfinger, the rock band from Los Angeles which gained quite a good reputation around the turn of the century for the relevant contribution that was given to the ska-punk sub-genre. But once I started listening to the songs in this LP, I found myself literally embarrassed for how good this album was and I ended-up literally seduced by the energy and the freshness emanating from the album.

The Knife, released on last July, is formally the seventh LP from Goldfinger and it succeded in wiping out in a matter of seconds all the skeptikism that one could have on the album.

After the last internal revolution, Goldfinger is today a rock “supergroup” with a new line-up consisting of the band leader John Feldman, who’s also the only remaining member of the original formation, supported here by Blink-182’s Travis Barker (who’s likely the best drummer of modern times in punk rock), talented bassist Mike Herrera and Story of the Year’s rhythm guitarist Philip Sneed.

The songs in The Knife provide the listener with a wonderful mix of melodic punk, alternative rock and ska. The music composed by Feldman for this album manages to combine funny and catchy choruses with interesting musical structures. The ska elements are very well balanced and as a matter of fact you can listen to the album over and over again without any effect of saturation. This is an instant classic, one of the most refreshing and anjoyable albums of the year – even beyond the boundaries of punk.


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF MEDITATIVE AND MODERN CLASSICAL MUSIC

As is typical in the field of meditative and modern classical music, the albums that we have listened this year ranged through extremely heterogeneous genres and approaches: electronic ambient music, sophisticated chamber ensembles, ballet scores, minimal piano pieces. In all these works, however, we have found the same dedication and attention for the perfect sounds, the most suggestive melodies and the most exciting soundscapes.

This chart provides a personal suggestion of the best works that were released this year and I tried to cover all the sub-genres of this vast sector of modern music. Interestingly, you’ll find here both established figures in modern classical music and new artists that managed to find their own way to distinguish themselves from the existing mass of low quality atmospheric and minimalistic albums.

To better represent the current status of meditative and modern classical music, I’ve also prepared a special compilation, in the form of a mixtape, which collects the best songs released this year by the artists that have been included in the Top Ten chart.


 

Number 10

ASYNC by Ryuichi Sakamoto

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Async, the latest release by legendary Japanese pianist and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, was one of the most awaited albums of the year as the artist’s first original album since 2009’s Out Of Noise and also his first since after recovering from throat cancer.

According to the release notes which were anticipated before the publication of the album, this new work represents a score for a non existing movie by soviet filmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, while at the same time taking inspiration from “everyday objects, sculpture, and nature”.

The 14 tracks of this album result quite heterogeneous in their structure, with the common element that holds them together being a sense of instability that perhaps derives from the experiences lived by the artist during the conception of this work. Personally I have appreciated the few melodic moments of the album more than the atmospheric / conceptual ones, and probably a greater balance between these two sides of Sakamoto’s music would have guaranteed a greater level of enjoyability to the whole work. 


 

Number 9

ENDLESS by Tale of Us

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Endless is a dark and minimalistic album released on last May for Deutsche Grammophon by the Italian duo Tales of Us . The record marks a steady turn in the career of these two electronic artists, who actually gained interest and popularity as  techno-house DJs. Their new work, on the contrary, is based on relaxing ambient soundscapes, slow beats and sweeping strings.

Taken in its entirety, this disc reveals some missteps that highlight the need of the duo to acquire a greater level of confidence with this genre.  Some pieces sof the album, just to make an example, appear more as a display of electronic skills than the genuine expression of musical emotions. Other songs, on the contrary, are decidedly more challenging and exciting, and elevate the music of these young musicians to the peaks of meditative music.

As a side note, the album has been also used for the production of a second disc of remixes curated by other artists of electronic music. As often happens in these cases, however, the level of the remix album is much lower than the original album.


 

Number 8

THE IMPERFECT SEA by Penguin Cafe

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The Imperfect Sea is the third and latest work by Penguin Cafe, which is the musical ensemble created by English composer Arthur Jeffes as an ideal continuation of his father’s project, i.e. Simon Jeffe’s avant-pop band Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Arthur Jeffes’ new group today comprises more than 10 musicians, they play delicate and expressive tracks that combine multiple influences, from flok to minimalism, but always supported by beautiful and sophisticated melodies.

One of the most interesting features of the album is the ability of these artists to generate a constant feeling of restlessness that remains suspended in the air without ever exploding in drama, like a big black cloud that appears on the horizon but remains distant, a threat that doesn’t turn into a storm but that traces gloomy shadows in a clear day. This is particulary evident in two of the best songs of the LP: Wheels Within Wheels, which is an incredible cover of a Simian Mobile Disco’s song where beats are beautifully replaced with gentle layers of strings and delicate piano cycles, and Cantorum, which is probably one of the best modern classical songs of the year, with droney strings and a yearning melody on top.


 

Number 7

CLEAR LANGUAGE by Balmorhea

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The most interesting aspect about Clear Language, which is the new work by Balmorhea, is how each one of the songs in the album seems to tell a different story. The ten tracks of the album are in fact characterized by an incredible variety of sounds and atmospheres, and to some extent this is the result of the five years that have passed since the previous album that was released by American ensemble. For sure this work was not completed in a rush. On the contrary, the record seems to sum up, one after the other, many different moments of inspiration that the various artists have experienced in the last years.

The music of Balmorhea is placed in the ideal point of intersection between the post-rock of the last phase of Mogwai and the ambient and meditative sounds of Ólafur Arnalds. We find in fact the delicate melodies and rarefied sounds that are typical of meditative music but with the nice and intriguing insertion of bass and guitar. The resulting mix is really enjoyable and also quite original, and the way the songs are structured bring your attention to the beauty of the sounds which are produced by the individual instruments more than the harmonies resulting from the work of the ensemble. And in fact, although Balmorhea consists of a sextet of musicians, it is quite rare to have more than two or three instruments playing together in the same part of the song.

In summary, Clear Language is an extremely interesting work from an ensemble that has already produced valuable albums since their formation twelve years ago. And year after year, the range of sounds and atmospheres created by the group has further increased in scope and depth.


 

Number 6

NUIT BLANCHE by Tarkovsky Quartet

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Tarkovsky Quartet is a modern classical and chamber music ensemble featuring pianist François Couturier (who actually created the quartet), cellist Anja Lecher, saxophonist Jean-Marc Larché and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier. All the music composed by Courtiers and his fellow musicians is inspired by the great Soviet filmmaker, who gave the name to the ensemble; Nuit Blanche, in particular, is the fourth chapter of a conceptual and Tarkovsky’s related quadrilogy which commenced in 2010 with Couturier’s solo piano session Un jour si blanc.

Among the albums that were included in this Top Ten chart, Nuit Blanche is definitely the one closer to the world of classical music. And it is also one of the more complex to be fully appreciated due to the fact that melodic and thus more accessible songs are alternated with expressive but more dissonant pieces.

Taken as a whole, Nuit Blanche remains in any case one of the most beautiful and expressive albums we heard this year, never ordinary and also played very well by these skilled musicians. The four instruments seem to chase each other throughout the entire album, sometimes they merge into a single melodic line but very often they travel on parallel roads.


 

Number 5

IN THE DARK WOODS by Akira Kosemura

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Japanese composer Akira Koseumura has recently reached the important milestone of 10 years of well-regarded career in modern classical music. In such time he has achieved a respected position in the music scene because of his ability to mesh together minimal tunes played on the piano with field recordings, other acoustic instruments and also electronic soundscapes. Kosemura’s music has always been extremely delicate, some call it “sparse”, and according to many more suitable for a musical background rather than made for deep and concentrated listening. Personally, I’ve always appreciated his style, which represents for me a magical way to flee into a serene world, free from all those complications and problems of our everyday life

Kosemura’s last album, In The Dark Woods, maintains all the typical features of his music and it contains a beautiful collection of intimate and delicate pieces, most of them playing aroung a few simple piano tunes. The LP is focused on the concept of finding comfort in the darkness and it is maybe one of the most introspective works the Japanes arthist made so far.


 

Number 4

ALL TOGETHER AGAIN by Peter Broderick

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All Together Again is the new solo record from American composer Peter Broderick. The LP collects in a single place all the works he was commissioned to write during his first decade of career. The interesting thing about this album is that despite being a collection of pieces conceived for different purposes and in different moments, they all manifest the same musical sensibility and the charm that have become distinctive features of the style of Broderick’s production. From a musical point of view, his music belongs to that category of compositions where nothing is excessive: every note, every chord every beat, every layer of music is there because the song couldn’t stand without. This is music stripped of any redundancy. Soundscapes and delicate melodies that are perfect to accompany the movements of your thoughts.

One of the most particular pieces of the LP is A Ride On The Bosphorus, an epic 17-minutes long piece that was commissioned for an art project.


 

Number 3

ICHIRU by Daigo Hanada

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Daigo Hanada is a young and talented Japanese pianist and composer, born in Tokyo but based in Berlin. Hanada released on last February a little masterpiece, named Ichiru, where he plays delicate and minimalistic melodies on a simple upright piano. The album contains a collection of relatively short but deeply captivating piano moments (intimate vignettes), which collectively show how sometimes the simplicity of arrangement and the immediacy of the melodies may generate an immediate connection between the author and the listener.

This is definitely one of the most lovely albums we heard in 2017.


 

Number 2

PREHENSION by Joep Beving

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The story of Joep Beving testifies the impact that social media and modern streaming services may have on the success (and sometimes the failure) of a new artists. This Dutch musician recorded some of the original piano tunes that he used to play for his family, distributed them online, and eventually sparked a stratospheric interest from hundreds of thousands of Spotify subscribers. At that point, contended by a number of record companies, he released this year a second record, Prehension, which confirmed the class and talent of the artist.

The style of Joep Beving follows the successful stream of modern classical and contemplative piano music, but just because of the fact that this genres begins to be definitely inflated, to emerge from the mass becomes even more difficult. The short compositions collected in Prehension reach the magical point of equilibrium where accessibility of the melodies matches with class and style. All the musical attributes of Bevings’ compositions float in that delicate balance between minimalism and delicacy where every additional element would make the sounds redudant, but anything less than that would compromise pleasure and smoothness of the songs.


 

Number 1

THREE WORLDS, MUSIC FROM WOOLF WORKS by Max Richter

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Three Worlds Music From Woolf Works is Max Richter’s eightheth album and it’s mostly consisting of the music score that the British musician composed for the ballet Woolf Works in collaboration with choreographer Wayne McGregor. Compared to the major works from Richter, this album somehow abandons the post-minimalist of his last releases to embrace a neoclassical style which is much closer to Richter’s early works. Interspersed with the larger orchestral moments we still find, however, a few synthetic inserts which give the music an estranged and pleasantly artificial atmosphere.

Following the same structure of the original ballet, the album is divided into three main sections, each one corresponding to a different work from Virgina Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves. Every section has its own atmosphere and Richter adopted a different style for each one of these musical acts. The first section of the album is the more conventional with respect to Richter’s past production, while we assist to a relatively greater experimentation in the second and third acts, where there is also an increased presence of contaminations with other musical genres.

This is a must-have disc for all Richter’s fan but, more in general, for all music lovers. It represents a perfect fusion between creativity, depth of sound and enjoyability.


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF SLUDGE IN 2017

Sludge metal is an extreme style of music that originated through combining elements of doom metal, stoner and hardcore metal. It generally features slow tempos, heavy rhythms, dark atmospheres and abrasive sounds. There are today many good bands dedicated to this genre of metal, each one giving its own interesting interpretation, and judging by the results the year 2017 has been definitely important: we have in fact some excellent albums that will leave a clear mark for a long time.

In collecting and selecting the 10 albums to be included in the list I had to make some choices, both because of a few good bands that didn’t enter the chart and also to assign the positions in the list for those groups who where included. As always these choices will generate some criticis, but I believe it’s part of the game and there is always the opportunity to comment. In any case, I’m much confident that the present selection of the top ten albums of the year is fully representative of the status of sludge metal in modern times and even a few modifications that could occur in the list wouldn’t change the overall situation. 

An interesting element that emerges from this list is how sludge metal has become an universal musical genre, practiced successfully everywhere in the world. The top ten chart includes two bands from U.S. and Sweden, one from Germany, one from UK, one from France, one from Belgium, one from Italy and one from Poland.

Before leaving the floor to the top ten list, I take the opportunity to provide below the access to one of the most recent mixtapes dedicated to sludge metal among those published in the blog. This features most of the bands included in the chart and it may be the ideal soundtrack for reading the rest of the post. Enjoy!


 

Number 10

DARK TOWERS, BRIGHT LIGHTS by Cranial

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Darl Towers, Bright Lights  is the debut release of the German band Cranial, which features in the line-up some members coming from the the mythical band Omega Massif, now dissolved. In 45 minutes and 4 long tracks, these guys from Hamburg deliver an epic sludge and post rock opera, somehow reminiscent of Isis, Cult of Luna and Neurosis.

The music of Cranial keeps all the main features of sludge metal with clear deviations towards the more elegant melodies of post rock. There is no particular innovation or creativity in the music produced by these guys but pure, simple and beautiful marching riffs, repetitive bass lines, and apocalyptic atmospheres.

In summary: the debut LP from Cranial features a satisfying and exciting collection of modern sludge medal songs, although I am convinced that these musicians have the capacity – for their future works – to contribute in a more innovative and personal way to the evolution of this musical genre.


 

Number 9

WIZARD BLOODY WIZARD by Electric Wizard

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British doom veterans Electric Wizard have published this year the ninth studio album of their long career, the second featuring the new rythmic section played by Clayton Burgess on bass and Simon Poole on drums and percussions.

The latest work from the Wizards, whose publication has been quite tormented and affected by a series of delays and postponements, sees the band from South West England abandon any desire for complex and dynamic structures. Almost all the songs of the album are in fact built on a simple and linear implant where the initial riff, slow and sometimes bluesy, is repeated substantially until the end of the song, with few variations and evolutions. Where this mechanism benefits of an intriguing and engaging riff the final result is certainly captivating. But in some cases, unfortunately, the songs appear too simple and flat to become memorable.

At the end of the day we can say that this record is not comparable with the major masterpieces that the band has released in the past, although these guys confirm themselves among the best representatives of that variant of sludge which bases its roots in doom metal.


 

Number 8

DOMAIN OF EMBER by Boson

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Boson is a new sludge metal band from Minnesota, in the U.S., and Domain of Ember is their promising debut full-lenght album. As the name of the band suggests, the music composed by this quartet takes inspiration from the “Boson”, which is that fundamental element of quantum physics named after the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose. Basically the Bosons are elementary particles that – once combined – generate all the most complex atomic structures that we see around us. In the same way the music of this band also starts from the combination of simple, linear elements, which are placed next to each other to develop long, complex and articulate songs.

The result is definitely interesting and the group shows ambition and personality, all features that foreshadow good things for their future. Surely there must be a little more attention and effort to increase the variety of songs, which in this debut seem excessively similar.


 

Number 7

TRELU by Fallow

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Fallow is a metal band from Southern France formed in 2010. Trelu (which means “Full Moon” in the old language of Southern France) is their second album and it’s basically a live session that the quartet recorded at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory of Music of Aix en Provence, France. This work follows their previuous LP, Werra (“Controversy”), published by the band a couple of years ago.

The music played by Fallow is an interesting version of post metal with many elements of sludge and psychedelic metal. There are in fact many moments in Fallow’s songs where the walls of heavyness and the poderous guitar riffs leave room for more rarefied and dreamy atmospheres; but it’s usually a short breath, a small parenthesis of delicacy before the most powerful sounds make their return.

As the band writes on their social media pages, the songs in Trelu are about witchcraft and legends in Southern France. And as a side note, currently the album can be acquired for just 1€ on their bandcamp page.


 

Number 6

MATTER & VOID by Sorxe

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Sorxe, from Phoenix in the U.S., are one of those groups that managed to find the right balance between the typical musical structures of post rock and the heavy and brutal sounds of sludge metal. Matter & Void, the second full-lenght album released by the band, represents an evident evolution with respect to the debut album (Surrounded by Shadows, published in 2014), especially for what concerns the introduction of slightly lighter atmospeeres in most of the tracks. It looks lite these guys from Arizona had established that the monotonous oppressiveness of their first LP was a bit of a limit to their creativity, and therefore decided to loosen a little the grip to explore new territories.

An aspect which is definitely interesting about Sorxe is that they feature two bass players in the four piece line-up. The “sonic” management of the two bass lines has been exceptional: there is no “bass overload” in the sound of the band and, on the contrary, this stylistic choice gives additional flavours to their pieces.

It’s really a pleasure to see a band that managed to improve so well the already good results obtained at their debut. Surely this band is among those to be observed and tracked carefully from here on.


 

Number 5

RUST by Monolord

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Today it’s almost impossible to see a rock or metal chart that doesn’t contain a couple of Swedish groups, and this ranking is no exception.

Monolord, from Gothenburg, released this year their latest album, Rust, which is the third since their formation four years ago. Despite such prolificity, all the albums published by the band so far have always been characterized by interesting and innovative elements. Moreover, during these four years the band has also shown a positive trend with a steady improvement in the quality of their music, something that is fully confirmed with their new album.

From a musical point of view, Monolord is one of those bands which like taking a given rhythm and keep it constant through the whole song, or even the entire album. What makes the difference, in this case, is the beauty of the bluesy guitar riffs, always intriguing and definitely enjoyable to hear. Stylistically we’re in front another variation of that marriage between sludge and doom that proved to be so successful in recent years,  with atmospheres and melodies that are in this case less oppressive and gloomy than the norm.

Monolord is another band that has been capable to build its own style even by drawing heavily into the sounds of the masters of this genre. And if these guys will continue to publish albums with the same frequency that characterized their production so far, we won’t need to wait a lot to see if the positive trend they have shown up to this point will be confirmed with their next albums.


Number 4

CHILDREN OF THE HAZE by Dopelord

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Children of the Haze is the new studio effort by Polish sludge quartet Dopelord, and it’s the third entry of their discography since they were formed in 2010. The music of Dopelord is an oppressively slow and psychedelic trip into heavyness and as they say on their bandcamp page, their music is inspired by “old movies, 70s music and magical herbs“. And indeed, this is probably the most hallucinated album on this Top Ten chart.

One of the peculiar characteristics of Dopelord has alway been their innate capability to be heavy and expressive at the same time. This element is fully represented in their last work, where the powerful guitars and the massive rhythm section creates an impenetrable and oppressive wall of sound, slow to exhaustion, but at the same time capable to generate incredibly expressive melodic lines, further enriched by abundant psychedelic inserts and a few light touches of keyboards and synthetizers. To complete the picture, the extensive use of clean vocals adds another peculiar element of innovation in the succesful recipe crafted by this quartet of doped metallers.   

It’s almost impossible to remain indifferent to the music of Dopelord, and Children of the Haze is for sure another masterpiece in their very good discography.


 

Number 3

MASS VI by Amenra

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If there is an album that can be fully summarized by its first two minutes, this is Mass VI by Belgian domm & sludge masters Amenra. Every constituting element of this new masterpiece from the band of the West Flanders is in fact contained in the initial moments of their last album: disturbing melodies, suffocating atmospheres, and a crescendo of anxiety that ends up in violent screams and an explosion of guitars.

The eerie quietness of the first couple of minutes of “Children Of The Eye” announces the coming storm, and the nine explosive, cathartic minutes of this opening song hold in themselves all the strikingly disparate emotions that we have come to expect from Amenra (from the album’s bandcamp page).

As a formation that is active since many years, we could somehow anticipate what would have been inside their new album: contrasts of light and darkness, plenty of crescendos, brutality, intensity and melody perfectly balanced in every song. What we couldn’t imagine, maybe, was the brilliant and astonishing way in which all of these elements have been composed together. Taken as a whole, this is one of the most satisfying records we had in 2017, and it fully deserved its position in the Top Three of this chart.

 


 

Number 2

8 by Ufomammut

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I cannot hide the pleasure of presenting an Italian band in one of the main positions of this chart. But Ufomammut, from Alessandria, have nowadays achieved such a reputation in the stoner doom panorama that I can’t be accused of giving them a favorable treatment.

A particular stylistic choice that the trio of Italian metallers has adopted for their new record, which is named 8 as the position that the disc occupies in the band’s discography, is that the 8 songs of the album are merged one into the another without a real separation, creating a single uninterrupted flow of crushing sounds with sparse touches of psychedelia. Making an album as a single stream of heavy music could generate serious drawbacks in terms of accessibility and overall enjoyability. To avoid this effect the band has produced one of the most beautiful sequences of sludgy riffs among those we have heard this year.

Ufomammut have been often accused in the past of writing songs and albums bigger than themselves. But with this work, which comes after 18 years since the band’s formation, we can say that the band has eventually reached its maturity. Their last work signs the definitive inscription of the band among the masters of modern sludge. The ambition that these musicians had always manifested in their previous works has been finally combined with a brilliant capacity of songwriting and a particular attention to every detail of the production process. Passion and experience generated a memorable result, an album that has the full potential to leave a clear mark in the sludge and stoner world.


 

Number 1

HOUSE OF THE DEAD by Ordos

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Ordos is the name of an incredible stoner-doom band from Sweden, which released early this year their second album, House of the Dead. The LP follows their 2013’s homonymous debut work.

The band does nothing to hide that their sound is inspired by the legacy of the the 70’s, and although there are no particular traces of innovation in their music, the product that they have packed for this new album is so incredibly addictive that the lack of novelty is not perceived at all.

I’ve fallen in love with House od the Dead since the first time I’ve heard it on Spotify, and the initial positive impression remained unchanged – indeed it has further grown – after many and many other listens of the album. I’m convinced that this record has got all the necessary elements to excel: the variety of the songs, an incredible enjoyability of the riffs, the perfection of the production, the skill of all the musicians and also the right level of roughness which makes the product genuine.

And as a matter of fact, day after day this album has become one of the favourite LPs of the year, well beyond the boundaries of sludge, stoner and doom.  Competition was tough this year for the Top Ten chart, but in true honestly there have never been doubts that this record would have given the way to some other contender.

 


 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF STONER IN 2017

For a musical genre that many say it’s too much rooted in the past, the world of stoner music gave us this year a surprising number of great records. From the retro-rock of Kadavar and Sasquatch to the modernity of new groups like Cairo Knife Fight and As They Come, we have been offered a wide range of different interpretations of this fantastic style of music. And it hasn’t been easy to decide wich groups were to be included in the final Top Ten of the year and which ones should stay out.

Differently from the previous year-end charts I didn’t prepare for this occasion a new mixtape. The reason is that there was a stoner compilation which I published a few weeks ago (Kings of the Road) that has not only got a great attention by the readers of the blog but which became, in a short time, one of the most appreciated of the year. I present it again as it can be the ideal soundtrack to accompany the reading of the Top Ten chart. Enjoy!

 


 

Number 10

MANEUVERS by Sasquatch

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Sasquatch is a trio of retro-stoners from Los Angeles, in the U.S. The band, which has already earned quite a good reputation in the stoner panorama, released this year the fifth LP of their discography, named Maneuvers, which features also the new drummer Craig Riggs, who recently joined the band.

Sasquatch like to merge modern stoner rock with influences from the 70’s, and this approach is heavily applied also in their new work. With the exception of the energetic opening track of the album, the songs of the album settle-down on slower rhythms, on top of which the guitars are free to draw their interesting melodic lines, full of reverberations and other typical stoner effects.

The album is extremely concise. In less than 40 minutes we’re provided with an enjoyable collection of dirty and dense rock and roll. Personally I believe that these guys could have reached a better result with just a little more alternation between slower and faster songs, but in any case this remains a very good and nice LP.


 

Number 9

TO THE ROAD by As They Come

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To The Road is the debut album by the motorcycle stoner rock band As They Come, from Portugal. This funny but talented quartet from São João da Madeira is active since 2012 and before this debut album they published a couple of years ago their first homonymous EP.

The songs of To The Road are characterized by an easy approach to stoner with direct and essential rhythms and lyrics, without too many conceptual frills. What you don’t miss in their songs, however, is the incredible load of adrenaline and energy that fills every second of the record. That’s a very interesting and surprising debut LP and this band is absolutely worth to be tracked in their next steps.


 

Number 8

SEVEN by Cairo Knife Fight

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Two musicians, one loop station, a synth and a couple of guitar amps”. This is Cairo Knife Fight, the rock music duo originating from New Zealand consisting of Nick Gaffaney (who’s also the founder of the band) and George Pajon.

With a musical style that that fits into an ideal meeting point between Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails, the music from Cairo Knife Fight pushes the boundaries of conventional stoner and embraces inputs and elements from many additional genres.

Their new album, Seven, was written and recorded in only 8 eight days and you can feel from almost all the songs of the LP the beauty – but also the limits – of such an instinctive and spontaneous writing.


 

Number 7

THE DEPTHS BELOW by Cortez

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American rock band Cortez, from Boston, released this year their second full-lenght album, The Depths Below, which represents a peculiar version of stoner rock with many catchy elementes and evident influences from heavy rock and grunge.

The LP arrives five years after their homonymous debut album, and it somehow contains the same recipe of stoner where groovy riffs are alternated with more slower melodies. The final result is definitely interesting, mostly thanks to the impressive performance of vocalist Matt Harrington.

Cortez band has the habit of letting a lot of time passing before a new publication. As a matter of fact, until today each new album came almost five years after the previous one. In the case of the last album, however, this time frame was also used to improve the cohesion between the elements of the group as there have been many changes in the line-up after their debut LP in 2012. Because of the above, a new album by the band is by itself an important event. And given the quality of the songs of The Depths Below, in this case is definitely an enjoyable one.


 

Number 6

ROUGH TIMES by Kadavar

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Rough Times, the new album by the German band Kadavar, is another of those albums that draws heavily in that unbridgeable basin given by the music of the 70s. With respect to many other retro-rock bands, however, the music played by Kadavar has the declared objective to imitate as faithfully as possible the atmospheres ad the sounds of the glourious era of rock and roll. 

With this premise it is clear that an album like Rough Times is destined to divide the listeners. Many people will say that the concept behind this LP doesn’t find so much justification in the second decade of the new century. However, if you leave aside these kind of considerations and listen to Kadavar’s songs for what they are, i.e. beautifully crafted rock and roll tracks, at the end this is an album that is capable to transmit a wide range of sensations.

There are a few songs, in particular, that shine for their absolute quality, such as the title track of the album or the single Die Baby Die. And it’s not by chance that the album has been often contributing to the stoner mixtapes and playlists we have presented in the pages of this blog.


 

Number 5

SLEEPING THROUGH THE WAR by All Them Witches

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Sleeping Through The War by All Them Witches has been one of the first albums to be recommended this year by this blog, even if at that time it was not straightforward to imagine that at the end of the year the LP would be entering the Top 5 of its genre. This is because the songs on this record – apart from a couple of particularly catchy singles – need some time and repeated listens before revealing all of their qualities.

Starting from the very first track of the album we are drawn into the obscure and melancholy territories created by the band. The songs are full of psychedelic elements supported by a solid stoner rock implant. And among the 10 albums included in this chart, Sleeping Through The War is maybe the one more representative of that intimate and poetic side of stoner music.

This is the fourth album in the career of the band, and their sound today shows a clear sense of maturity. It looks like that the four guys have incrementally learned to balance the various influences which contributed to their music: psychedelia, stoner rock, alternative metal, blues and bit of sludge. Year after year, album after album, these guys from Nashville have now consolidate their own and unique style of music. And this is a very good one


 

Number 4

VIBRACIONES DORADAS by Causa Sui

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Causa Sui is an instrumental stoner rock quartet from Denmark which has taken the interesting habit of publishing a new album roughly every year; sometimes it’s a full-lenght release, other times it’s a live recording of one of their concerts, and in some cases it’s a collection of special recordings (sessions), more experimental and in which they are typically accompanied by other guest musicians. The last of Causa Sui’s releases is a five-chapter mini-LP named Vibraciones Doradas, which is at this point the the thirteenth official publication since their debut in 2005.

The album delivered one of the finest collections of stoner rock tunes I have heard this year. From all of their songs it’s possible to feel the pleasure that these rockers have in playing their music, both when they’re following tight rhythms or when they are free to float with their instruments over more relaxed drum rates. Vibraciones Doradas is undoubtedly one of those jewels of the underground rock that should deserves a far greater visibility of what the band has achieved so far.

As a side note, every time I’m engaged with one of their new releases, I always find myself thinking of what could have happened in their career if the band had integrated a frontman. In fact, although the music of this group develops on the fairly classic canons of psychedelic and instrumental post-rock, I still feel that there are so many of their songs that would have benefited by some evocative and engaging lyrics.


 

Number 3

EMPEROR OF SAND by Mastodon

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Emperor of Sand, by American heavy metal band Mastodon, belonged to the category of the mostly awaited albums of 2017. And from the position the album gained in the final chart, at the end it turned out as another great album from what is nowadays one of the major bands in stoner music.

The four guys from Georgia don’t need too many introductions. With Emperor of Sand the band arrived in fact at the seventh album of a career which started almost eigthteen years ago. With their unique and strong mix of progressive and stoner rock, Mastodon become one of the preeminent metal acts of the early 21st century, gaining also mainstream success with some of their most accessible songs.

Emperor of Sand looks like two albums in one single disc. The work starts with a pack of the more aggressive, direct and mainstream-oriented songs, and then proceeds in the second half with the more complex and articulated tracks. The overall quality of the album, in any case, it’s very high. The only critic that I can express about the album is that it explores extensively the legacy and background of the band without any particular innovation in their musical approach.


 

Number 2

THE COYOTE WHO SPOKE IN TONGUES by John Garcia

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As long term fan of John Garcia I tend to adore almost every single album he publishes or where he simply contributes with his wonderful voice. In his last full-lenght disc, however, he really managed to convey a tsunami of emotions and the balance between new and old tracks is definitely satisfying. The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues is an acoustic album which contains new songs and some wonderfully rearranged tunes from the Kyuss era.

Much of the beauty of this record lies in the fact that John Garcia didn’t just follow the desire to pursue the commercial success by rearranging the most famous songs of his long and glorious career. Rather, it is evident the depth of emotions which he needed to communicate and which is at the basis of such a little masterpiece.

Here in this blog, the last album by John Garcia has spent many months on top of the overall music chart. The value of the album goes in fact well beyond the pure stoner world and this is a work which clearly represents one of the best things which happened in music in 2017.


 

Number 1

FORCE FIELD by The Atomic Bitchwax

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Last in First Out. One of the last albums to be reviewed in the blog becomes the top album of the stoner chart. Since the day of its release, Force Field by American supergroup The Atomic Bitchwax was immediately noted as one of the most powerful records of 2017. And at the end it deserved the award of best stoner album of the year.

With more than 25 years of history and characterized by a special relationship with the stoner legends Monster Magnet – a band with which the Bitchwax have always shared some of the main members of the line-up – this rock project founded by Chris Kosnik has always released high-quality publications. And their last LP, released in December 2017, absolutely confirms this rule.

From the first seconds since we push the button on our music player, we are greeted by the usual sequence of thick, energetic and catchy riffs, an element that has always been one of the main characteristics of their works. And in Force Field they manage to generate the same incredible level of energy without any slowing down. This is an incredible 35 minutes ride where the pedal of the accelerator is always pushed down, a celebration of the most unleashed and sharp sides of stoner rock. A simple and effective musical assault, but played with a surgical level of precision that is quite uniqe in modern stoner world. Push the play button, and start the ride.


 

 

END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF JAZZ IN 2017

This chart with the best 10 Jazz albums of 2017 is the perfect combination of a first group of albums which conquered and mainteined their positions in the top ten since the early months of the year, and a few “late” masterpieces that arrived after the summer and that – in a very short time – have literally twisted up the top positions of the final ranking.

Another general consideration that we can make on this top ten is that the artists with the most experience prevailed. Apart from some young promise that has managed to find a place in the lower parts of the ranking, the main positions are all assigned to musicians with a consolidated background. But beware, this does not mean that we are always facing the same old music. On the contrary, this year’s Jazz music scene shined for the absolutely brilliant way in which the most important artists have managed to combine a somewhat classic approach to their music with clear elements of innovation, replicating once again that magic thanks to which this musical genre, despite the criticisms of many, still manages to represent – much better than many other types of music – progress and growth.

There is nothing left to say that recommend going through this list of artists and their new albums: maybe you could have missed a few of these LPs and in this respect this article could be an opportunity to fill any gap in your Jazz discography for the year. And to better complement and accompany the reading of the chart, I’ve also prepared a special compilation with selected tracks from the most interesting LPs released in 2017. This mixtape includes also artists who have not reached the top ten chart and that aren’t mentioned in the article. In this respect, the mixtape is even a better way to revisit the state of contemporary Jazz through a fascinating journey through various musical sub-genres and different styles.

 


 

Number 10

LA DIVERSITE’ by Nicolas Kummert

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La Diversité is the last album produced by the young Belgian jazz singer and tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert and it’s an LP which slowly but incessantly ascended in the Jazz music charts of this blog. It’s not bny chance, then, that it eventually consolidated its position within the Top Ten albums of the year.

La Diversité is a particular release which requires a few listens to be fully comprehended and appreciated. Kummert’s saxophone lines are in fact subtle and articulated and his style incorporates so many different influences that you may need some time to untangle the dissonant harmonies that permeate the album. This is not an album wnich you can just put in the background during your busy evenings; you need to listen it carefully in order to enjoy at the best all of its curious and inspired musical lines. Profound and full of suprires, that’s one of the most challenging but interesting albums of the year.

In most of the tracks Nicolas Kummert is is supported by a number of talented musicians who all participated actively with their single touches to the final result. The major contribution, however, comes from Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke, who gave a special touch of Africanism to many of the songs of the album.


 

Number 9

FAR INTO THE STARS by Markus Stockhausen

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One year after the release of beautiful and poetical album Alba, German trumpeter and composer Markus Stockhausen comes back with another ethereal release. Far into the Stars, the last of a long discography of albums, is a further testimony to the artist’s ability of creating delicate and fascinating atmsopheres where no sound is ever dissonant with the former one, and all the instruments works organically for the definition of engaging and emotional layers of melodies.

The style of Stockhausen is often tending towards the sonorities and musicality typical of classical music and this album does not deviate from this trend. The songs of the album are soft, gentle but still permeated by an underlying tension.

This is another precious gem in the collection of records released by a great representative of modern Jazz.


 

Number 8

GENTLE GIANTS by SLOWFOX

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Slowfox is a recent music project founded by German double bass virtuoso Sebastian Gramss. The project is basically a jazz & avant-garde trio featuring saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and pianist Philip Zoubek. The three skilled musicians have released on last May the second album under the moniker fo SLOWFOX, named Gentle Giants, which is an excellent testimony of the current status of contemporary chamber music.

The beauty of the album relies moslty in the exceptional balance between the beautiful harmonic improvisations and the melodic background that characterize all the songs of the disc. The music of Slowfox seems to float perpetually between these two domains: on one side boundless creativity, on the other reassuring melodies. The absence of the drums makes this sensation even stronger and creates an extravagant, intriguing and sometimes hypnotic effect.

The artistic concept that has guided the composition of the songs of the album is probably summarized by the quote that is obtained by reading one after the other the titles of the 15 songs: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” (probably to be accredited to Friedrich Nietzsche)


 

Number 7

TRANSPARENT WATER by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita

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Cuban-born jazz pianist Omar Sosa has built a vast discography of works in which he plays with musicians from all around the globe, often travelling outside the standard of Jazz traditions. In his last album he joined the efforts with Senegalese drummer, vocalist and kora player Seckou Keita, who is today one of the most charismatic musicians from Africa.

The duo has released this year a beautiful album, named Transparent Water, which sees also collaborations with other musicians coming from the most disparate areas of the world, each one bringing his own influences and playing his characteristics musical instruments: we have Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki, Chinese sheng player Wu Tong, and Venezuelan percussionist and batá player Gustavo Ovalles, just to mention a few ones. But like a sort of magic, what could be imagined at first as a chaotic mix of sounds, influences and instruments, here is wonderfully transformed into a celebration of simplicity and – to some extent – it becomes an ode to the universality of music.

The experience of listening to this beautiful album is really a journey through ethnic sounds and enchanting melodies, with the different musical traditions which complement each other providing the listener with varied nuances of the same basic tune.


 

Number 6

PROVENANCE by Björn Meyer

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If last year I ended up completely conquered by the beauty and the particularity of Janek Gwizdala‘s American Elm, it may be understandable how it was possible for me to fall in love with Provenance, the new album by Swedish Jazz bassist Björn Meyer. This work, in fact, shares with Gwizdala’s one the same exact musical approach and provides the listener with a collection of fabulous solo pieces for electric bass and very few other contour elements.

The technique used by Meyer for his new album is very special: by playing his six-strings bass only in the highest regions of the instrument’s dynamics, the artist manages to produce a lighter sound, very similar to that of an electric guitar, but with a substance and a body which result definitely denser and more stratified. And with the addition of a few electrical touches and some effects like reverberation, the result is complete: in front of us magical worlds unfold thanks to the wise touch of this great musician.

Provenance is one of those albums that reject tags and labels. “Jazz” or “meditiative music” become simple attributes of a music that assumes mystical and universal contours. There is no need to wonder what kind of music you hearing when such a pure sound and these poetic melodies come before you. You just have to enjoy it, and be transported into the realms of magic.

As a side note, the album was recorded in an highly responsive auditorium in Lugano and according to the author this aspect had a big influence on the final result: “Even though the instrument is technically non-acoustic, the music is deeply influenced by the properties of the space where it is played. The many different ways in which acoustics affect my compositions and improvisations have always been sources of surprise and inspiration. There is definitely a second member in this solo project – the room!


 

Number 5

POSTDAMER PLATZ by Jan Lundgren

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Potsdamer Platz is the last beautiful work by Jan Lundgren and it sees the Swedhish pianist and composer play together with a new quartet he assembled with Jukka Perko (alto & soprano sax), former E.S.T. Dan Berglund (bass), and Morten Lund (drums). For this LP the Scandinavian supergroup managed to craft and record a fantastic sequence of songs which someone could initally confuse for simple lounge-bar jazz tunes, but that in reality represent – each of them – a beautiful example of modern jazz, without too many superstructures and useless conceptual elements. It’s easy to proclame the willingness to balance tradition with enjoyability, but there are very few artitst that actually manage to achieve this goal without slipping into banality or the mere repetition of a model.

As reported on his biography, Lundgren is part of a remarkable and long tradition of innovative pianists from Sweden like Jan Johansson, Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson. He has the ability to integrate the most disparate musical influences into a fascinating whole. Whether its contemporary classical music, the northern folk tradition or the groove of jazz, Lundgren has a unique way of leading the listener on a voyage of discovery – sometimes relaxed, sometimes more passionate – through his magnificent musical soundscapes. An instant classic.


 

Number 4

FAR FROM OVER by Vijay Iyer Sextet

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American pianist Vijay Iyer is one of the most influential figures of the current Jazz scene, and he’s also one of the most experimental and prolific composers of these days. After having achieved a remarkable success with two great albums released for the ACT label in 2009 (Historicity) and in 2013 (Accelerando), he’s been involved in wide range of heterogenous musical projects where he sometimes explored territories well beyond conventional Jazz.

Iyer’s last work, the beautiful Far From Over, apparently marks a sort of return to the more usual sounds and structure of Jazz music, but in reality it conceals an absolutely modern and courageous reading of the old canons of this musical genre. From a purely formal point of view, in fact, we find in this album a collection of compositions which correspond to the typical structures of hard bop, swing, funky-jazz or avant-garde. The approach to the music, however, is completely innovative and sees the artis and his five skilled bandmates taking corageous paths which unpredictably diverge from the convention.

In some songs of the album, partly because of the composition of the ensemble (two saxophones, one flugehorn, piano, bass and double drums) and partly because of the peculiar way of playing of the musicians, I felt sensations and emotions similar to those I had the first time I listened Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

That’s another milestone in the career of Vijay Iyer and it’s absolutely no surprise to find him reaching the top 5 in the final chart for Jazz music.


 

Number 3

JERSEY by Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet

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There are artists who are so much driven by musical curiosity and the desire to explore different influences that they feel the pressure to produce adventurous works mixing together musical genres, always trying to find new languages for expressing their creativity. And it may defintely curious to see how, sometime, the best way these artists really manage to achieve their goal is to come back to the origin of their music. Evidently, it is just by going through the most well-known roads that you can travel the further.

Mark Guiliana, the talented and versatile drummer who gained the attention of fans and critics playing together with artists of the caliber of Brad Mehldau and Avishai Cohen, started a few years ago an exploration of electronic music, pop/rock and free-improvisation – sometimes with mixed results in my opinion. This year he has movedback to a more conventional lineup, a total analogue set-up, and he eventually released one of the most exciting records of his entire discography.

Working together with long-time supporting musicians such as tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby and bassist Chris Morrissey, and the the new addition of Fabian Almazan on piano, Mark Guiliana managed to record a compilation of songs wich are today the perfect synthesis of Conteporary Jazz and that showcase a perfec balance between the excellence of the individual musicians (often engaged in breathtaking solos) with an excellent harmonic cohesion.


 

Number 2

BODY AND SHADOW by Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band

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As a long-term fan of American jazz drummer Brian Blade, I’ve been waiting for this new record with great expectations and some trepidation. His last effort with his fellow companions, Landmarks, dated 2014. But although I was therefore ready to listen to a great album, I could not imagine falling in love with Blade’s new release from the real first notes of the first track of the record. Body and Shadow, the last work released by Blade with the Fellowship Band, it’s something so beautiful and unique that it literally takes your breath away. This is a music with no reference, no original model: it is pure poetry that the musicians play spontaneously, leaving aside technical those virtuosities and conceptualisms which in any case they would not have any problem to use given their pedigree.

The adjectives that comes to mind thinking of the jazz played by the musicians on this record are “soft” and “sweet“. In fact the music proceeds in this album without angularities: we have sounds, melodies, and harmonies played with care and with delicacy, melodies that manage to touch the most intimate strings of the soul. But be aware, delicacy and softness here do not mean lack of emotions. Instead, this is a clear manifestation of musical leadership and a group of musicians who have played together for years and years. They show an impressive capacity to self-synchronize their sounds and a level of self-awareness that makes all the ensemble tuned and compact. And what has been said at the overall level is also true for the drumming of Brian Blade. His touch is never heavy or above the other instruments.


 

Number 1

AN ANCIENT OBSERVER by Tigran Hamasyan

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After so many times this album has been mentioned in this blog, it was extremely difficult that another record could remove it from the top of the chart. And in the end, as easily predictable, An Ancient Observer by Armenian composer Tigran Hamasyan won the award of best Jazz album of the year.

Differently from Tigran’s productions of the last few years, An Ancient Observer sees the artist focused primarily on the piano and the simplicity of the arrangements is totally in favour of Tigran’s inspirations. In all of the songs of the album we can appreciate the beautiful balance that he managed to achieve between Armenian folk music (which is based on a different tonal system with respect to the European one) and those more conventional – and for us familiar – musical structures.

The melodies in Tigran’s songs are always suspended on this unstable equilibrium between two worlds and two cultures, and this dynamic contrast creates a fascinating and magical atmosphere. Listening to the album, however, we appreciate how this is today the result of years and years of work and persistent refinement rather than just a circumscribed musical experiment. As a matter of fact, we’re speaking of a musician that is incorporating local folk melodies into jazz-form improvisations since his teens.

Sometimes, even if quite rarely, there are songs that can hit you deep in your emotions. Songs where the beauty of the melodies is combined with a great expressiveness of the interpretation. An Ancient Observer is full of these kind of songs. This is with no doubts a musical work that will leave a mark for a long time. Not to be missed, absolutely.

Many readers of the blog already had the opportunity to enjoy the Spotify playlist that was assembled to celebrate the greatness and the ingenuity of Tigran. This is available from the following widget, and collects both new and past pieces of music from our beloved pianist.


 

Best of Jazz in 2017, the Top Ten Albums (updated)

Jazz music is maybe one of the musical genres that is more subject to personal interpretation and if we exclude a few of the new albums that gather universal consensus, you will always find a great disparity of opinions from critics and listeners over the majority of recent Jazz publications, especially when it comes to debuting musicians. As a matter of fact, if you compare three of four Jazz charts it will be a real challenge to find the same artist appearing in all of them.

Said this, here you can find my personal Top Ten list with the best Jazz albums which I’ve heard this year so far. There are a few well known and acclaimed artists but also a number of new musicians that are shaping the future of Jazz through many interesting influences coming from other kinds of music.

We have now entered the last quarter of 2017, there is still so much to hear from now to the end of the year but many of the artists that appear in this edition of the list are expected to maintain their positions. Enjoy the chart and we’ll see together what will happen in the forthcoming months.


 

#1) An Ancient Observer by Tigran Hamasyan

 

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After many months since the release of Ancient Observer by Armenian composer Tigran Hamasyan it is now difficult to predict that another record will remove this masterpiece from the top of the chart. And as the readers of the blog may confirm, I stated since the beginning that the LP was going to be one of the major releases of the year, across all genres.

Differently from Tigran’s productions of the last few years, An Ancient Observer sees the artist focused primarily on the piano and the simplicity of the arrangements is totally in favour of Tigran’s inspirations. In all of the songs of the album we can appreciate the beautiful balance that he managed to achieve between Armenian folk music (which is based on a different tonal system with respect to the European one) and those more conventional – and for us familiar – musical structures.

The melodies in Tigran’s songs are always suspended on this unstable equilibrium between two worlds and two cultures, and this dynamic contrast creates a fascinating and magical atmosphere. Listening to the album, however, we appreciate how this is today the result of years and years of work and persistent refinement rather than just a circumscribed musical experiment. As a matter of fact, we’re speaking of a musician that is incorporating local folk melodies into jazz-form improvisations since his teens.

Sometimes, even if quite rarely, there are songs that can hit you deep in your emotions. Songs where the beauty of the melodies is combined with a great expressiveness of the interpretation. An Ancient Observer is full of these kind of songs. This is with no doubts a musical work that will leave a mark for a long time. Not to be missed, absolutely.

…and today I’m really excited because I will see him live here in Roma on next November!

It’s a special kind of magic when a musician and his instrument of choice seem to merge into one entity, one voice, one force of musical creation. Few musicians have achieved this almost symbiotic relationship with their instrument in the last decade, and Tigran Hamasyan is one of them, handling the piano like an extension of his very essence in his jazz/classical/world music-informed compositions (Itdjents)


 

#2) Far From Over by Vijay Iyer Sextet

 

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One of the most influential figures of the current Jazz scene, American pianist Vijay Iyer is also one of the most experimental and prolific composers of these days. After having achieved a remarkable success with the two great – and relatively “standard” – albums released for the ACT label in 2009 (Historicity) and in 2013 (Accelerando), he’s been involved in wide range of heterogenous musical projects where he sometimes explored territories well beyond conventional Jazz.

Iyer’s last work, the beautiful Far From Over, apparently marks a sort of return to the more usual sounds and structure of Jazz music, but in reality it conceals an absolutely modern and courageous reading of the old canons of this musical genre. From a purely formal point of view, in fact, we find in this album a collection of compositions which correspond to the typical structures of hard bop, swing, funky-jazz or avant-garde. The approach to the music, however, is completely innovative and sees the artis and his five skilled bandmates taking corageous paths which unpredictably diverge from the convention. In some songs of the album, partly because of the composition of the ensemble (two saxophones, one flugehorn, piano, bass and double drums) and partly because of the peculiar way of playing of the musicians, I felt sensations and emotions similar to those I had the first time I listened Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

That’s another milestone for Jazz, another great album by Vijay Iyer, and it’s no surprise to find him reaching quickly the top positions of the chart.

Along with bassist Stephan Crump, both Lehman and Sorey have worked extensively in some of Iyer’s previous groups. It makes sense that they’d sound comfortable in the composer’s dense and memorable pieces, though this ensemble’s compatibility isn’t an end in itself. The union of players and material inspires a new synthesis: the sound of Iyer consolidating strengths and discovering some new ones as he settles into the vibe created by his most potent band yet. (Pitchfork)


 

#3) Potsdamer Platz by Jan Lundgren

 

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Potsdamer Platz is the last beautiful work by Jan Lundgren and it sees the Swedhish pianist and composer play together with a new quartet he assembled with Jukka Perko (alto & soprano sax), former E.S.T. Dan Berglund (bass), and Morten Lund (drums).

For this LP the Scandinavian supergroup managed to craft and record a fantastic sequence of songs which someone could initally confuse for simple lounge-bar jazz tunes, but that in reality represent – each of them – a beautiful example of modern jazz, without too many superstructures and useless conceptual elements. It’s easy to proclame the willingness to balance tradition with enjoyability, but there are very few artitst that actually manage to achieve this goal without slipping into banality or the mere repetition of a model.

As reported on his biography, Lundgren is part of a remarkable and long tradition of innovative pianists from Sweden like Jan Johansson, Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson. He has the ability to integrate the most disparate musical influences into a fascinating whole. Whether its contemporary classical music, the northern folk tradition or the groove of jazz, Lundgren has a unique way of leading the listener on a voyage of discovery – sometimes relaxed, sometimes more passionate – through his magnificent musical soundscapes. An instant classic.

Lundgren’s intuitions about when to do more with less make him an ideal accompanist, he has the most polished of keyboard touches, and a songwriter’s ear for melodies that sound simultaneously conventional and new (The Guardian)


 

#4) Transparent Water by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita

 

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Cuban-born jazz pianist Omar Sosa has built a vast discography of works in which he plays with musicians from all around the globe, often travelling outside the standard of Jazz traditions. In his last album he joined the efforts with Senegalese drummer, vocalist and kora player Seckou Keita, who is today one of the most charismatic musicians from Africa.

The duo has released this year a beautiful album, named Transparent Water, which sees also collaborations with other musicians coming from the most disparate areas of the world, each one bringing his own influences and playing his characteristics musical instruments: we have Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki, Chinese sheng player Wu Tong, and Venezuelan percussionist and batá player Gustavo Ovalles, just to mention a few ones. But like a sort of magic, what could be imagined at first as a chaotic mix of sounds, influences and instruments, here is wonderfully transformed into a celebration of simplicity and – to some extent – it becomes an ode to the universality of music.

The experience of listening to this beautiful album is really a journey through ethnic sounds and enchanting melodies, with the different musical traditions which complement each other providing the listener with varied nuances of the same basic tune. Wonderful.

Those keen on analysis will be tempted to try to break this music down to its component parts, disentangle instruments, and assign strict definitions to what’s happening here. That’s not advised. Part of the magic in Sosa’s music has always been his ability to operate behind the curtain, working the seam where music and magic coexist. His brand of sorcery remains one of his greatest gifts, and it continues to hold sway over every person and project he gets involved with. (All About Jazz)


 

#5) Gentle Giants by Slowfox

 

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Slowfox is the recent jazz project founded by German double bass virtuoso Sebastian Gramss. The project is basically a jazz / avant-garde trio featuring saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and pianist Philip Zoubek. The three skilled musicians have released on last May the second album of the project, named Gentle Giants, which is an excellent testimony of the current status of contemporary chamber music.

The beauty of the album relies moslty in the exceptional balance between the beautiful harmonic improvisations and the melodic background that characterize all the songs of the disc. The music of Slowfox seems to float perpetually between these two domains, that boundless creativity and the reassuring melodies. The absence of the drums makes this sensation even stronger, and creates an extravagant, intriguing and sometimes hypnotic effect.

The artistic concept that has guided the composition of the songs of the album is probably summarized by the quote that is obtained by reading one after the other the titles of the 15 songs: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” (probably to be accredited to Friedrich Nietzsche)

The complete abandonment of percussion instruments does not appear to be a disadvantage in this context, but rather condenses the essence of the vibrations into a web created by these anarchic and spiritualized avant-garde musicians. This album can be described without any exaggeration as a very successful blend of fluttering compositional threads spanning in many directions, and free improvisations that surf on these threads and have their joy in it. (BetreutesProggen, english translation)


 

#6) Times Of Change by Amit Baumgarten Quartet

 

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Times of Change, the debut album by this young guitarist from Israel, is another of those modern albums where traditional Jazz is influenced, altered and sometimes completely distorted by the influences and the musical styles that the musicians enjoyed during their musical growth. And you can easily recognize that Amit Baumgartener, in addition to being a talented musician and composer, is basically a young guy who has grown to large doses of alernative rock and metal.

After a number of years spent shaping his style through experiences abroad and a few collaborations with Israeli musicians, he eventually assembled this Jazz quartet with Avri Borochov on bass, Tom Oren on piano and Alon Benjamini on drums.

I’ve been honestly impressed by the freshness of the style of this young musician: you can feel how the energy and innovation manage to give life to the standard constructs of Jazz music but at the same time still maintaining an attitude of respect towards those evident influences of the past which can be crearly recognized in his music. The most beautiful parts of the album, in my opinion, are those when the rhythmic session takes a boost and seems to stimulate the young guitarist to lose some control and to participate passionately to the groove of the song.

That’s a very nice debut, which landed almost directly among the best LPs of the year. Let’s see now if the album will withstand the passing of time and it will be still here after these few months which separate us from the end of 2017.

This is an eclectic album, that goes a long way from the post-bop tune “Rain Coffee” , to the prog-rockish “Urban Adventure” and even a surprising homage to the Seattle grunge bands with the tune “90’s”. All blended together in a unique and elegant way that creates a special sound and atmosphere. (Bandcamp)


 

#7) Far into the Stars by Markus Stockhausen

 

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One year after the release of beautiful and poetical album Alba, German trumpeter and composer Markus Stockhausen comes back with another ethereal release. Far into the Stars, the last of a long discography of albums, is a further testimony to the artist’s ability of creating delicate and fascinating atmsopheres where no sound is ever dissonant with the former one, and all the instruments works organically for the definition of engaging and emotional layers of melodies.

The style of Stockhausen is often tending towards the sonorities and musicality typical of classical music and this album does not deviate from this trend. The songs of the album are soft, gentle but still permeated by an underlying tension.

This is another precious gem in the collection of records released by a great representative of modern Jazz.

His music sounds gentle, familiar, quasi-classical. Stockhausen avoids dissonances, at least those which are immediately noticeable. However, if you listen to Far Into The Stars more closely, fascinating details emerge. There a mood of the clear beauty shifts almost imperceptibly into the tension of harmonic opposites and dissolves them again (Amazon.de, translated)


 

#8) La Diversite by Nicolas Kummert

 

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La Diversité by young Belgian jazz singer and tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert is an album which slowly but steadily ascended in the music charts of this blog, where it eventually consolidated its position within the best Jazz albums of the year. As a matter of fact, some musical works need a longer time to be fully comprehended and appreciated. Kummert’s saxophone lines are subtle and articulated and his style incorporates so many different influences that initially you may find yourself somewhat lost among the dissonant harmonies that permeate the album.

In what emerged at the end as one of the most interesting Jazz releases of 2017, this young artist is supported by a number of talented musicians. The major contribution, however, comes from Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke, who gave a special touch of Africanism to many of the songs of the album.

This is not an album wnich you can just put in the background during your busy evenings and leave it there for its nice soundscapes; you need to listen it carefully in order to enjoy its curious and inspired musical lines. Profound and full of suprires, that’s one of the most challenging but interesting albums of the year.

A longtime student of west African music, Kummert’s alliance with acclaimed Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke is an ongoing, free-flowing conversation that skirts past the usual cliches of jazz-meets-Africa, so La Diversité is not some hyphenated mutant genre, but a distillation of collective experience and influences into something personal and open (The Irish Time)


 

#9) Titok by Ferenc Snetberger

 

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Titok, by Hungarian artist Ferenc Snétberger, is an ode to guitar.

Snétberger is playing this instrument since almost 50 years (his biography states that he had classical guitar lessons from 1970) and throughout his career he has been exploring many different styles and influences (from the ‘hot‘ jazz guitar of “Django” Reinhardt to Latin American musics, passing through US jazz and European classical traditions). Well, what we hear in this record seems to be a point of arrival for all these different experiences he had so far and the album certainly represents an important chapter in the artist’s career.

In this record Snétberger plays together with Swedish bassist Anders Jormin and US drummer Joey Baron. The album contains some old Snétberger’s tunes that are reinterpreted (magistrally) by the trio, along with new compositions where the three musicians are more oriented towards improvisation. The atmospheres created by the guitarist and his comrades are typically warm and gentle, and everything seems made with the precise will to enhance the poetic sound of Snétberger’s guitar.

That’s a very good Jazz release, for both lovers of jazz guitar and also those causal listeners who simply want to enjoy a beautiful collection of nice songs.

Snétberger has a precise touch, flowing improvisational mind, and imparts each piece with a generous heart, a grace fully embraced by his sensitive fellows. (London Jazz News)


 

#10) Precious Time by Anthony Jambon Group

 

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Another debut album achieved a position in the Top Ten of Jazz for 2017 and it’s the surprising LP named Precious Time released by French guitarist Anthony Jambon, who’s supported by four additional young Jazz musicians (Joran Cariou, Camille Passeri, Swaéli Mbappe and Martin Wangermée).

This album is great in the particular way it manages to keep a delicate balance between simplicity of his melodies and complexity of the rythimc sessions. The eight songs of the album are definitely accessible and easy to enjoy also by less experienced listeners, but the apparent simplicity of the musical constructs looks definitely as a precise stylistic choice rather than a limitation in curiosity of the author towards musical exploration and improvisation.

Fresh, vibrant and genuine, this is one of the happy surprises of the year, and Jambon is for sure an artist that we shall follow to see his future steps into the realms of Jazz.

Jambon’s music gives space to both precise writing and improvisation, transcendental melodies and rhythmic complexity. Each of the 8 long tracks tells its own story and the listener is invited to travel through time and space, led by the band’s heightened sensitivity and communicative emotion. (Klarthe)