Quick Review: “Rage” by Wrath

There are music bands that – undeservingly – have gathered less celebrity and fame than they deserved. Wrath, from Chicago, are among these ones. Born in the golden age of thrash, they soon moved away from the standard canons of the genre and started playing what was later defined as technical thrash metal, a sub-genre of conventional thrash that placed greater emphasis on complex songwriting and demanding instrumental parts. However, Wrath didn’t manage to reach the relevance of other bands that were playing the same style of metal, like Watchtower, Mekong Delta and Coroner, and were relegated to a minor role in the thrash story. As a result, despite the band was formed more than 35 years ago, Wrath are often unknown to the greater public, even including those who consider themselves fans of thrash. The fact that they released only 5 albums throughout their career hasn’t contributed to increase the fan base, in particular outside the U.S.. But everyone who had the opportunity to discover the music played by Wrath usually appreciate the passion, the creativity and – in the end – the quality of their works.

Coming across a new album from Wrath is certainly, in itself, an important and interesting event. And the pleasure of seeing them still on the road is further reinforced when you listen to the songs of Rage, Wrath’s new LP, which in effect manage to transmit a few moments of sincere emotion.

Today, listening to Wrath’s music is like preparing a vintage cocktail of metal by blending together some of the most beautiful songs in the history of old-school metal. We can appreciate in their songs nuances ranging from Megadeth to Faith No More. The result could appear a little anachronistic and out of time, but the dedication and care for the details that were put into this album managed however to give coherence and sense to all of the songs.

Evidently this is not the album that can guarantee to Wrath the success that they never achieved in the past, but Rage is still a very good and fully enjoyable thrash metal record that the fans of the genre will appreciate without any difficulty.

Wrath’s new album can be streamed from Spotify.

My highlights: Draw Blood and the opening track Conflict.


 

Songs from Rage are now playing in THRASH METAL FEAST, the playlist on Spotify which is continuously updated with the best and latest thrash metal songs. Listen and follow!

 

 


 

Quick Review: [Untitled] by mewithoutYou

American rock band mewithoutYou has never followed the trends or moved along the same old tracks that were already marked by others. As a matter of fact, across their career (which now approaches the twenty years) these guys from Philadelphia have always interpreted their role as musicians in the most complete and courageous sense: not only they’ve conducted a continuous research for the spiritual aspect of music, they have also kept experimenting to find the sounds that could match at best their vision of contemporary rock. For this reason it has never been easy to describe the music of mewithoutYou with only a few words. The same applies to their new studio album, called [Untitled], which escapes the simple tags and attributes that we’re used to attach to every band.

Moving with extreme naturalness between exciting and energetic moments and more reflective and spiritual sections, the tracks of [Untitled] travel in a musical dimension that absorbs the improvisation of the prog, the atmosphere of the post rock, the rage of post-hardcore, the riffs of alternative rock and the distortions of indie music, mixing everything with wisdom and elegance.

 

 

The availability of a language that’s so varied and free from preconceptions gives the band the possibility to adapt and tailor their approach against the particular theme that’s addressed by each single songs, with results that are generally positive. As often happens for those bands that make the juxtaposition of styles and the experimentation as the fundamental cornerstones of their style, alongside impressive and beautiful songs we may find sometimes a few less convincing tracks. But leaving aside these sporadic (and physiological) drops in tension, the new LP from the band remains a solid release, and also one where they really managed to unite their post-hardcore roots with a more pronounced melancholic sensibility.

[Untitled] is available on Bandcamp and the album can be also streamed from Spotify.

Highlights: Flee Thou Matadors!, Wendy and Betsy, Another Head for Hydra and the opening track 9:27a.m. 7/29


 

mewithoutYou‘s new album is featured in INDIE INSIDE, the playlist with the best and latest indie rock songs. Check this out, follow it and spread it!

 

 


 

Quick Review: “Eternal Return” by Windhand

Windhand, from Virginina in the U.S., have already distinguished themselves as one of the most promising and intriguing bands of contemporary doom metal. Formed in 2008, at the important stage of 10 years of activity the band has released this year what may be potentially their breakthrough record. Their new LP, called Eternal Return, is the fourth of their discography but, differently from their previous releases, it’s deeply marked by the ambition of the band to expand their musical horizons and, at the same time, to consolidate what could be considered their special and unique style.

 

 

Whilst keeping intact the founding elements of their style, including the slowness and the obsessiveness of their guitar riffs, Windhand have now injected into their sound many other elements taken from other genres, first of all grunge and stoner. Such new  influences were incorporated in a way that feels absolutely brilliant and natural, and they had also the side effect of further enhancing the performance of all the band members, starting from the fascinating Dorthia Cottrell whose voice reaches in this Eternal Return peaks of pure class and intensity. In the song Diablerie, just to mention one notable case, she seems absolutely at ease at singing over grunge melodies; in other tracks she also shows a timbric variety that was sincerely unsuspected for what we could appreciate until today.

 

 

Another aspect that can be definitely highlighted is that Eternal Return makes grater recourse to variations in rhythms and atmospheres between the different songs. This makes the album much more enjoyable to listen as a single uninterrupted flow, from the beginning to the end, or even in repeat mode (as I actually did the first day I came across to the LP, when it run in background for about three hours). Some of the band’s previous works where more focused on the obsessive repetition of the same sound and basically the same rhythm, a stylistic choice that we had appreciated and that, from a certain point of view, allowed them to convey particular feelings of anxiety and obscurity.

Today we can enjoy a new chapter in Windhand’s evolotion, where the band is experimenting a different vision of music, brighter and more varied. In this sense Eternal Return stands as a turning point in their career. We will see in the years to come if this LP will sign the point of origin of a new stylistic roadmap or rather this will remain in the annals of Windhand’s history as a unique, appreciated, episode.

Eternal Return is available on Bandcamp and can be streamed also from Spotify.

Highlights: Diablerie, Grey Garden, the opening song Halcyon and Eyeshine.

 


 

Selected music from Eternal Return is featured in SLOWLY, the playlist with the best of doom and sludge. You don’t need to be fast to be strong!

 

 


 

Quick Review: “STill Cyco Punk After All These Years” by Suicidal Tendencies

It’s almost 40 years that Suicidal Tendencies keep playing their characteristic crossover thrash, which is that genre of music that mixes together elements from thras, punk and hardcore. Evidently they still don’t have enough as they’re back with a new album, STill Cyco Punk After All These Years, the thirteen studio LP of their  discography (and please note that ST in high caps is not a mistake).

Once you start listening to this album you may feel like being teletransported in the early years of the century, and that’s not by chance. STill Cyco Punk After All These Years is in fact a new recording of a previous album that Mike Muir recorded and published in 1996. Muir, who’s the founder of Suicidal Tendencies and, today, the only remaining member of the initial formation, has been engaged in a lot of different side project, including a solo career – under the moniker of Cyko Miko – which generated so far four different LPs. STill Cyco Punk After All These Years, the new album by Suicidal Tendencies, is the modern reintepretation of Cyko Mico’s debut LP Lost My Brain! (Once Again). To make things even more confusing, the title of the album is evidently an homage to Suicidal Tendencies’ seventh studio LP, Still Cyco After All These Years, released in 1993.

Did you get all of the above? In the end it doesn’t matter… In a few words the entire story says that Mike Muir felt the desire to take advantage of the explosive and powerful new line-up of the band – which nowadays includes the legendary drummer Dave Lombardo – and revitalize one of his old records, one that Muir evidently considered full of good ideas but a little scarce from the point of view of the musical execution. And what’s the result? In true honesty I went to listen the original LP from Cyko Mico and, in effect, the modernized version sounds much better. But taken as a stand alone product, STill Cyco Punk After All These Years didn’t impress me too much. The songs are nice, fast, fun, but even after many listens the album doesn’t leave any trace in my music memory. There is nothing memorable in the record and the overall feeling is that of a funny experiment, an exercise in style, but nothing more than that. I’ll save a couple of tracks for my compilations, but I probably won’t come back often to listen again the entire LP.

The new album by Suicidal Tendencies can be streamed from Spotify.

My favorite tracks are All Kinda Crazy, Lost my Brain…Once Again and Sippin From The Insanitea.


 

THE BEST OF ALICE IN CHAINS, the band which has lived twice

 

Alice in Chains is a band which has lived twice. After the hiatus, the issues realated to drug abuses and the tragedy that has struck the band in a crucial moment of their career, the guys from Seattle were able to emerge from their ashes and find a way to overcome the loss of their iconic lead singer Layne Staley. As a matter of fact, within the family of the legendary bands that marked the golden age of grunge at the end of the last century, Alice in Chains are among the very few which managed to maintain their status until today, and this is mainly because of the objectively high level of quality of the music that they have continued to produce and release even after the peak of their career.

This year the band has released a new LP, Rainier Fog, the sixth full-lenght studio album of their discography, the third with William DuVall as co-lead vocalist and guitarist. In some way this record marks a sort of milestone in the band’s history: 3 albums with Layne Stayley and 3 albums without.

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Alice in Chains performing live in 1996 (with Layne Staley)
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Alice in Chains performing live in 2017 (with William DuVall)

In order to celebrate this special chapter in the career of Alice in Chains I decided to make a compilation with all my favorite songs from their impressive production. The mixtape features 18 songs which cover a timespan from 1990 to 2018.

The complete playlist of the compilation is the following:

  • Rainier Fog
  • Check My Brain
  • Again
  • Grind
  • Pretty Done
  • Them Bones
  • A Looking In View
  • Rain When I Die
  • Down In A Hole
  • Get Born Again
  • Angry Chair
  • Hollow
  • So Far Under
  • We Die Young
  • Would
  • Nutshell
  • Brother
  • Black Gives Way To Blue

I’m sure you will enjoy this selection of songs, and please feel free to write me for any comment on the playlist or if you are interested to get the file of the mixtape (which is also good for running). Long life to Alice in Chains!


 

Between Revival and Innovation: The Best TRADITIONAL FOLK MUSIC of 2018

Among all music genres, traditional folk is the one where the tension between the authentic and the commercial is more evident. But it is from the perennial battle between these two extremes that usually the most interesting records are generated, as is certainly the case of the four albums that are presented in this article. As a matter of fact, the albums you’ll see mentioned in this chart are not only the best traditional folk records that have been published so far in 2018, they all contain embryos of innovation and modernity that make their music more enjoyable and somehow accessible for the new generations of listeners.

 


 

 

#1) “THE ART OF FORGETTING” by KYLE CAREY

 

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Celtic Americana artist Kyle Carey created a synthesis of music called ‘Gaelic Americana’, which mixes Celtic and Appalachian folk with literary elements. She has released so far 3 LPs and on EP. Carey’s new album, “The Art of Forgetting”, unites an all-star international cast of musicians such Sam Broussard on guitar, John McCusker on fiddle, Ron Janssen on octave mandolin, Kai Welch on trumpet and Mike McGoldrick on Flute.

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.

The Art of Forgetting was also reviewed in a dedicated page of this blog. Check it out.

The album may be streamed on line on Spotify.


 

 

#2) “TWO SCORES” by BLOWZABELLA

 

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Blowzabella is a genuinely unique band that makes an inimitable, driving, drone-based wall-of-sound played with a fabulous sense of melody, rhythmic expertise and sheer feeling They compose their own music which is influenced by English and European traditional folk music and song – a shared culture with ancient roots. (from the band’s webpage)

Blowzabella aren’t absolutely newcomers in the flok world. This unique and characteristic English formation celebrates in 2018 its 40th year of activity (“two-scores”) and of course there are many records and publications released by them to date. In case there is someone approaching the band for the first time, what’s necessary to know is that Blowzabella distinguished themselves for their particular and truly unique style of music where traditional folk is with drone music. A vast array of acoustic instruments are in fact played and manipulated in order to obtain sounds and rhythms that are typical of the dance world (a “wall of sound” as they like to say), but always played with a traditional spirit. One could really say that the music of Blowzabella is one of those happy cases where the union between two distant worlds, in this case the legacy of the folk tradition and the spirit of innovation, has produced something that’s much larger than the sum of the original elements. The last album by Blowzabella, Two Scores, shows the band in a state of absolute grace: the maturity acquired by these musicians over the years is still supported by the desire to experiment new sounds and rhythms, so that their songs are never the mere repetition of schemes and tricks from the past repertoire. The LP offers also a relative variety among its tracks, and in the end the only thing these musicians ask you to do is to free your spirit, start dancing and be carried away by the frenetic, hypnotic and magical music they created for us.

Two Scores is available for streaming on Spotify.


 

 

#3) “WHORLS” by KITTEL & CO.

 

 

 

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Jeremy Kittel is a contemporary American musician and composer. Fluent in multiple musical genres, his original music draws from traditional roots, jazz, Celtic, Classical, electronic, and more. Kittel performs with his own band or trio, as a duo, and as a soloist with orchestras.

American violinist Jeremy Kittel has gained quite a relevant reputation as one of the most talented performer and composers of celctic folk and bluegrass, with a style which emphasizes both his technical skills and a special taste for timeless melodies. He’s been involved in many projects, both as a soloist and with supporting partners. In his most recent release, Whorls, he offers a new exciting collection of folk songs that are tinged by many different influences from traditional celtic music, baroque classical melodies, American bluegrass and a few hints of jazz. A number of skilled musicians have been involved in the project including mandolin phenom Josh Pinkham, guitarist Quinn Bachand, cellist Nathiel Smith, Simon Chrisman on dulcimer and also vocalist Sarah Jarosz. The quality of the performances is extraordinary, and the songs offer a good level of variety and surprises to keep the attention high along all the record.

Whorls may be streamed from Spotify.


 

 

#4) FOLLOW THEM TRUE by STICK IN THE WHEEL

 

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English folk band Stick in the Wheel bring a contemporary approach to celtic folk music with raw minimalism, setting vocals, simple accompaniments and handclaps.

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.

Follow Them True is available for streaming on Spotify.


 

 

Funny Coincidences: may the legendary and worldwide acclaimed electronic duo “Daft Punk” be inspired by an Australian Death Metal Band?

One of the advantages of listening to so many different musical genres is that sometimes you may discover “inspirations” and “coincidences” that are almost incredible to believe. A few months ago I pointed out the impressive similarity between a song from Kyuss, the legends of stoner music, and an historical Scottish ballad of a few centuries ago.

Today, while I was running early in the morning with one of my heavy metal compilations playing loudly in my headphones, at some point I realized that one of the fantastic riffs that I was listening in that moment reminded me of something I had already heard from another song. A couple of km after I had the final revelation: it was one of the songs from the last (and beautiful) LP from the Daft Punk. The metal song which generated this musical connection is “Venator” from Be’lakor, which – I must admit – is one of the favourite songs from one of my favourite bands. Later on, while at home, I could eventually check my intuition and I verified that effectively there is a very strong similarity between one of the central riffs of Be’lakor’s song (dated 2009) and “Instant Crush“, a track included in Daft Punk’s Random Access Memory, which is the fourth and latest LP from the French electronic music duo.

Here is the comparison between the motifs from the two songs. You will agree that the resemblance is remarkable. Coincidence? Inspiration? Something different? Hard to say, as usual.

 

 

 

Daft Punk have never hidden their appreciation for rock music, but Be’lakor is certainly not a band known to everybody. Founded in 2004, this Australian melodic death metal band has released four LPs. Stone’s Reach their second LP and the one that contains the song “Venator”, is considered almost unanimously as their best work so far.

Here are the complete versions of the two songs. Enjoy!

 


 

 

 

MODERN SONGWRITERS OF 2018: Grant-Lee Philips, Bahamas and Glen Hansard

Songwriters have the special capacity to give life to their songs and also to tell us beautiful stories through melodies and lyrics. The music range of these artist may span from rock to folk, but all of them – in theory – should share the same sensibility and passion for good and solid pieces.

Last year, however, I couldn’t conceal my disappointment in front of a relatively large number of long awaited albums that in the end didn’t meet the expectations (Fleet Foxes, Mark Lanegan, Sun Kil Moon and Robert Plant, just to mention a few). The first months of 2018 seem to present a different scenario, whith a bunch of good artists who maybe don’t reach the level of fame and popularity of the big names I mentioned before, but who released very solid and enjoyable albums. Three artists, more than the others, were appreciated for the brilliance and freshness of their songs and I’m presenting here their new albums.

 


 

WIDDERSHINES by Grant-Lee Phillips

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After the relatively short but intense experience with the Grant-Lee Buffalo, American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Grant-Lee Phillips started a solo career which has already led him to publish a significant number of records. Between some inevitable high and low, this artist has managed to achieve a respectable role in the modern music scene, although perhaps the charm and success of his initial band remains unattainable. Widdershins, which is Grant-Lee’s last record, is a solid album full of energy and positivity, that results extremely enjoyable to listen and where we can appreciate the unique capacity of the artist to balance in an almost perfect and maniacal way both intimate and more sardonic moments.

 


 

EARTHTONES by Bahamas

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Singer-songwriter Afie Jurvanen, best known by his stage name Bahamas, released in early 2018 his new album, Earthtones, which is the fourth since his debut in 2009. This latest work by the young Canadian artist stands out for a brilliant heterogeneity of the pieces, ranging from indie folk to funky, and R&B. In Bahama’s music there is a pervasive feeling of curiosity and it’s evident the clear will of the artist to push his music beyond the limits that were already known. The songs that I liked the most, however, are the two that respectively open and close the album (Alone and Any Place). Of all the tracks on Earthtones , these two are perhaps the most essential ones, meditative and passionate like those songs that only the most talented songwriters manage to write.


 

BETWEEN TWO SHORES by Glen Hansard

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Glen Hansard is one of those artists who have so much creativity that they can’t just remain anchored to a single form of expression and in fact, in his career, we’ve met him as a folk guitarist, singer, songwriter, and also 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 the songs are not always showing the same level of focus. There are however still many moments of excitment and passion, which correspond typically to the more rock-oriented moments of the album.


 

If you liked this article, you may be interested in the following older posts:

 


 

MUSIC WITHOUT WORDS, the best Meditative Albums of 2018 / Episode 1 (February 2018)

Meditative music includes in general a family of extremely heterogeneous styles spanning from electronic ambient music to sophisticated chamber ensembles, from ballet scores to minimal piano pieces. The list of the best five albums released in the first two months of 2018, however, seems to be focused on only two particular genres of music: electro-acoustic and dark ambient. We’re missing, in particular, those modern-classical piano music albums that have been so successful in the last few years among the general public. But in the meantime that we wait for the inevitable wave of neo-classical records, let’s enjoy for the time bieng these more experimental, reflective and, to some extent, obscure albums.

The usual recommendation for who arrived here via a search engine: you may want to check if this is the most recent edition of the chart for meditative music, you can easily browse and check it from the specific section of the blog. This list is the first one released in 2018 for meditative music and it refers to the first two months of the year. Enjoy!

 


 

#1) ALL MELODY by Nils Frahm

(Electro-acoustic, Modern Classical)

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ALL MELODY, the last album by German composer Nils Frahm is full of pure and rarefied musical lines that slowly and gently emerge from the white noise that surrounds us.  The LP 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 in this album as we didn’t hear for long his discography. The sounds that come from the album are warm, soft, absolutely engaging. The artist has used a large number of different keyboard instruments, a few of them generated synthetically, 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. The picture is then completed with the nice and original introduction of choirs and wind instruments. The full review is available here.


 

#2) MILES TO MIDNIGHT by Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast and God Body Disconnect

(Dark Ambient, Dark Jazz, Field Recordings)

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Miles to Midnight is the result of the collaboration among three important representatives of modern music: Atrium Carceri, which is the musical project created by the Swedish composer Simon Heat, who’s also the founder of the music label Cryo Chamber; Cities Last Broadcast, which is one of the many names under which Swedish artist Pär Boström composes and releases is music; God Body Disconnect, the ambient music project created by American artists Bruce Moallem, who arrived to ambient music after an initial career as a drummer in a brutal death metal band. The eight songs of the LP offer the listener with a special version of dark and melodic ambient, which is developed over an infrastructure of drones, orchestral elements and field recordings that generate beautiful, fascinating but also intricate and thick soundscapes. The general atmosphere is obscure, the main emotion that is felt is something like anguish. But the effect is so intense that it becomes an incredible experience, something that one wants to repeat, again and again. The full review is available here.


 

#3) RESOLVE by Poppy Ackroyd

(Electro-acoustic)

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British composer and musician Poppy Ackryod has gained in recent years a certain popularity in the world of electro-acoustic and experimental music, both as the author of a couple of solid and precious solo albums and as a member of the Hidden Orchestra (a musical project that released last year another great record). Ackroyd’s music was initially characterized by the rigid choice to compose her songs through the digital processing of only two instruments: piano and violin. During the years the sonic range of her compositions has gradually grown, and in her latest album, Resolve, we may appreciate the contribution of other instruments and also a few guest artists. Violin and piano remain at the center of the music, but there are now additional elements that expand the dynamics of the songs. Stylistically speaking, the melodies used by Ackroyd  in the new album are those typical of electro-acoustic music, in this case extremely linear and accessible by a mainstream audience. The technical performance is ok, the atmospheres are pleasant and convey an enjoyable sense of intimacy, but the songs sometime lack the level of intensity and depth that could have give more power to the album.


 

#4) AD ASTRA by Awali

(Electro-acoustic, Modern Classical)

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Ad Astra is the fifth release from the the Czech artist Tamara Shmidt and her interesting musical project Awali. The music created by this Awali is an enjoyable combination of ambient, electronic and classical music, above which we can occasionally appreciate the beauty of her sensual and delicate voice. The songs of the album develop on rarefied atmospheres and extremely slow rhythms, and the album may be an excellent background for moments of calm and reflection.


 

#5) UR DJUPAN DAL by Atrium Carceri & Herbst9

(Dark Ambient, Ritual Ambient)

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One can only express appreciation for a musician like Simon Heat, the multifaceted artist who works behind the pseudonym of Atrium Carceri, for the passion with which he carries on his own vision of dark ambient music and, at the same time, has the energy and the dedication to continually look for new inspirations through the collaborations with other masters of electronic and ambient music. And in the space of just two months, we find him contributin to this chart with two different works: the beautiful collaborative album Miles to Midnight (whith God Body Disconnect and Cities Last Broadcast) and this second record, Ur Djupan Dal, written and recorded together with Herbst9, which is one of the various ambient projects founded by a duo of German  veterans of electronic music like Henry Emich and Frank Merten. When compared to Miles to MidnightUr Djupan Dal doesn’t feature the same oppressive soundscapes and gloomy atmosphere but rather musical stratifications that proceed like soundwaves in a sea of silence. This is not a simple album to absorb, but it contains however a number of interesting elements that emerge slowly and that require a certain number of repeated listens to be appreciated in full.


 

If you enjoyed this chart, you could be interested to see which were the best modern classical and meditative albums of the last year.

 


 

Best New Music: UNSUNG PROPHETS & DEAD MESSIAHS by Orphaned Land

My job brings me very often into the fascinating lands of Middle East, and as consequence I’ve always had a particular fondness for those groups that are able to infuse in their music the elements from the culture of that area. Therefore, it’s easy to understand why I alway looked with extreme interest to Orphaned Land, the Israeli metal band that many define as “the pioneers of oriental metal”. Unfortunately, however, too many times their work appeared to me something like a wasted opportunity. The concept followed by this band has always been intriguing and full of potentialities: to mix together Jewish, Arabic and other Asian music influences, then use the expressive capabilities of progressive metal as a glue. In addition to the musical aspect there was also the beauty of the message of universal peace and unity that these musicians have always conveied with their songs. But, as already mentioned, the result didn’t always lived up to the expectations, and the potential also. An aspect that sometimes has been lacking in their work was the capacity to merge the folk elements of their music in the structure of the songs, rather than just playing – with metal instruments – musical pieces that perhaps would have been even more expressive without so many distorted guitars. After all, this is the unstable equilibrium in which operate all the artists who try to fuse together expressive languages that were born from extremely different origins: it is easy for one of the two styles to prevail over the other, transforming the result into something extravagant but not very homogeneous. And because of that, after the initial curiosity of listening to new instruments and nice oriental melodies, many of the songs produced in the past by this group were soon forgotten. There were always, however, peaks of creativity that suddenly have made the band to re-emerge from the average mass of the ethnic bands, keeping alive the hope that eventually the final moment of maturity would come.

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Has this moment fnally arrived with Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs, the new album released by the band in 2018? The answer is not completely affirmative, yet, but we are definitely a span higher than the most recent productions of the group. The LP shows in fact an impressive stylistic consistency and the songs transmit an emotional power as we dind’t feel from them since many years ago. And coming back to the subject of the fusion between different genres and cultures, finally we have a sequence of beautiful “oriental metal songs” rather than just simple metal songs that imitate oriental music. Said in other words, in many tracks of the album we see that the specific dynamics of Middle Eastern music are guiding the development of the song, both in the riffing sections and the choruses.

Speaking abuout the music, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs offers a nice combination of progressive metal and  folk. The music is extremely accessible and melodic, but like the Arabian dates that grow on the palms in the desert of the Middle East, sweetness here is never cloying and it fills the body with vigor and energy.

Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs was released on January 26th, 2018.


 

Blowing Away: the best Jazz of the year played by wind instruments

In a couple of previous posts of the blog I had the pleasure to speak about the best Jazz albums of the year centered on guitar and piano. Now that the year is approaching its conclusion, I take the opportunity to show which have been the most interesting releases – and the single songs – developed around wind instruments: saxophones, trumpets and clarinets.

I’ve reviewed all the best jazz albums released so far in 2017 and I came out with a selection of 9 songs from as many LPs. The resulting mixtape features legends such as Charles LLoyd and Markus Stockhausen, but also younger and more “revolutionary” musicians like Kamasi Washington, Avishai Cohen (the trumpeter) and Nicolas Kummert.

The 9 tracks that I’ve selected to represent the beauty of wind instruments in 2017 are:

  • Dark and Oppressive Loop by Anne Quillier Sextet
  • Into Action by Vijay Iyer Sextet
  • Thought by SLOWFOX
  • Gnossienne by Nicolas Kummert
  • 340 Down by Avishai Cohen
  • Choral am Ende der Reise by Markus Stockhausen
  • Benjamin by Verneri Pohjola
  • How Can I Tell You by Charles Lloyd New Quartet
  • Perspective by Kamasi Washington

Here you can access the mixtape with the selected tracks.

 

Enjoy the compilation, and you can find below more information on the artists and their selected tracks.


 

ANNE QUILLIER 6tet - 1280x300

Dusty Shelters, the second album from the young French pianist and music writer Anne Quillier, features a trio of impressive wind instrument musicians: Pierre Horckmans on bass clarinets, Aurélien Joly on trumpet and Grégory Sallet on saxophones. The three artists manage to create an incredible variety of harmonies through a game of chases, contrasts and also some conceptual (mathematical) that definitely enhance the peculiarities of each one of the instruments. The song included in the compilation, Dark and Oppressive Loop, presents us with a simple rhythmic and syncopic base made by bass, piano and drum, on top of which the three musicians are free to unleash their musical creativity and to create the unique blend of sounds and styles which is one of the secret recipes of this fantastic album.


 

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Talented American pianist and composer Vijay Iyer released this year a wonderful album with an interesting formation featuring two saxophonist (Steve Lehman and Mark Shim) and also American cornetist Graham Haynes. The LP, Far From Over, emerged immediately as one of the best releases of the year in Jazz and mostly because of the intriguing and “daring” harmonies that the lineup manages to build in most of the songs. As I had the opportunity to say in a previous post of the blog, the music of Far From Over often reminds of Stravinsky’s revolutionary music in his famous ballet burlesque Petrushka. The track which I selected from Iyer’s last album is named Into Action, and it represents a clear example of the unstable and beautiful balance that the two saxophones can create together throughout the song.


 

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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 track wich I selected for the compilation, Thought, is basically divided into two main parts: an atmospheric and somewhat alarming beginning in which the saxophone is used to create an unstable and turbulent sonic background, which opens the way to a more familiar counterpoing among the instruments of the trio. In this last part of the song, the sax becomes softer and warmer, perfect to support the development of the many musical lines of the piece.


 

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Many words have been said in this blog about La Diversité, the new album by Belgian jazz singer and tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert. In what remains one of the most interesting Jazz releases of 2017, the young artist is supported by a number of talented musicians such as Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke, who gave a special touch of Africanism to many of the songs of the album. The track from the album that has been selected for the compilation is Gnossienne, an interesting re-interpretation of Eric Satie’s masterpiece, which here assumes exotic and sometimes ghostly resonances.


 

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Defined by many as one of the best trumpeters of his generation, Avishai Cohen released this year a new album for ECM, named Cross My Palm With Silver, which follows and somehow expand the emotional and impressionistic style of jazz he introduced in his previous (and in my opinion superior) album Into The Silence. With his latest releases, the skilful Israeli musician is clearly lookingto define a special and unique roadmap for his music, which is today already far from what we heard in his debut works. The style of Cohen’s last album, here represented by the song 340 Down, is absolutely minimal, full of pauses and reflections, complex and sometimes cerebral. The final result, in spite of everything, is engaging despite it requires maximum concentration to be fully appreciated.


 

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German trumpeter and composer Markus Stockhausen released this year a new enty in his long discography of incredible and fascinating works. Far Into The Stars, his new album, 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 beauty of its trumpet resides in my opinion in two distinct aspects: the crystalline purity of the sound that Stockhausen can generate with his instrument, and his special style of music which is deeply marked by an evident classic background. Both the two aspects are represented here in the piece called Choral am Ende der Reise, from the new album.


 

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Benjamin by Finnish jazz musician Verneri Pohjola it’s a beautiful tune picked up from his last record, Pekka, where the trumpeter reinterprets the music of his late father, Pekka Pohjola, who was a (locally) acclaimed and revered prog-rock bassist and composer. Pohjola’s style merges jazz with rock and other disparate influences on top of articulated and sometimes dissonant musical constructions. The song selected for the collection is one of my current favorites within the album, with its slow and incessant rhythm over which the melodic lines of the various instruments develop. The sound of Pohjola’s trumpet here is particularly interesting, rough and almost acid, which in my opinion fits perfectly with the atmospheres evoked by the song.


 

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After many experimental and innovative artists, with the saxophone of American jazz legend Charles Lloyd we eventually enter in the comfort zone of the compilation. The jazzist from Tennessee has found a new vein of creativity and in the last years he has produced a sequence of beautiful albums with support from many different musicians. His last effort, Passin’ Thru, is basically the live recording of a concert he played with his quartet on the summer of 2016. The album in itself is a celebration of the unique and strong connection that the players achieved in the last years. The song selected for this collection, How Can I Tell You, allows us to enjoy the magical sound of Lloyd’s saxophone, which is here free to travel alongside the melodic lines drawn by his faithful companions.


 

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American jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington is a musician who doesn’t need many introductions after the seismic shock he produced two years in the Jazz scene with his debut work as band leader, the triple disc The Epic. This work didn’t just confirm to the world the style and talent of the artist, but with the bold and extravagant duration of 173 minutes it has become a universal and timeless declaration of love for jazz. This year the Californian artist came back with a smaller work, the EP Harmony of Difference, which is basically a suite of five pieces initially composed as part of a multimedia exhibition. Washinton music, and his wonderful tenor sax in particular, still shows the elements of universality and joy which made us get in love with his style. The track included in the selection, Perspective, is built around a catchy and funky melody, and in its central section lets us appreciate again the unique sounds which Kamasi manages to create with his sax.


 

The List of all Lists: the 80 Best Albums released in the first half of 2017

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been curating the best songs and the best albums for many different genres. I’m summarizing here in this post the result of my selections relatively to the first half of the year.

 

The 10 Best ROCK Albums of the year, which include Indie Rock, Punk, and Alternative Rock (full commentary is available here)

  1. Modern Ruin by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
  2. Near to the Wild Heart of Life by Japandroids
  3. Life Without Sound by Cloud Nothings
  4. Laune der Natur by Die Toten Hosen
  5. 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory by Dropkick Murphys
  6. Damage and Joy by The Jesus and Mary Chain
  7. Night People by You Me At Six
  8. American Beauty by CJ Ramone
  9. For Crying Out Loud by Kasabian
  10. Mosaic by 311

 

The 10 Best METAL Albums of the year, which include Thrash, Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Groove Metal, Progressive Metal, Folk Metal, Metalcore and Alternative Metal (full commentary is available here)

  1. Nightmare Logic by Power Trip
  2. The World Ablaze by God Dethroned
  3. For the Fallen by Memoriam
  4. Heartless Oppressor by Primal Attack
  5. Conformicide by Havok
  6. Tarot by Æther Realm
  7. Black Laden Crown by Danzig
  8. Fear Those Who Fear Him by Vallenfyre
  9. Poison The Parish by Seether
  10. No God by Infernäl Mäjesty

 

The 10 Best ELECTRONIC Albums of the year (full commentary is available here)

  1. Shikantaza by Chinese Man
  2. The Assassination of Julius Caesar by Ulver
  3. Savage Sinusoid by Igorrr
  4. The Burning Spider by Parov Stelar
  5. Soiree Deluxe by Tape Five
  6. Migration by Bonobo
  7. World Eater by Blanck Mass
  8. What If by Hauschka
  9. Ti Amo by Phoenix
  10. Out Of Time by Hugo Kant

 

The 10 Best JAZZ Albums of the year (full commentary is available here)

  1. An Ancient Observer by Tigran Hamasyan
  2. Transparent Water by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita
  3. Potsdamer Platz by Jan Lundgren
  4. Precious Time by Anthony Jambon Group
  5. La Diversité by Nicolas Kummert
  6. Titok by Ferenc Snétberger
  7. Circles by MEM3
  8. Planetary Prince by Cameron Graves
  9. Sleepwalkers by Omer Klein
  10. Danse by Colin Vallon Trio

 

The 10 Best POP Albums of the year, which include Indie Pop, Synth Pop, Dreamy Pop and Pop Rock (full commentary is available here)

  1. Silver Eye by Goldfrapp
  2. Little Fictions by Elbow
  3. Capture by Thunder Dreamer
  4. Cigarettes After Sex (S/T)
  5. In Between by The Feelies
  6. Colliding by Design by Acceptance
  7. Relaxer by Alt-J
  8. Hot Thoughts by Spoon
  9. Something Else by The Cranberries
  10. Goths by The Mountain Goats

 

The 10 Best Progressive Rock Albums of the year

  1. Blackfield V by Blackfield
  2. The Optimist by Anathema
  3. In Spades by The Afghan Whigs
  4. Detachment by Barock Project
  5. Flying Microtonal Banana by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
  6. Chalice Hymnal by Grails
  7. Is This the Life We Really Want by Roger Waters
  8. Trippin’ With Dr. Faustus by Amplifier
  9. Quiet Storms by Galahad
  10. Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth by The Mute Gods

 

The 10 Best Meditative and Modern Classical Albums of the year

  1. Three Worlds Music From Woolf Works by Max Richter
  2. Ichiru by Daigo Hanada
  3. Nuit Blanche by Tarkovsky Quartet
  4. The Imperfect Sea by Penguin Cafe
  5. Endless by Tale Of Us
  6. Unfold by The Necks
  7. Different Spaces by Erik Wollo
  8. Room 29 by Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales
  9. Wait State OST by Bogdan Belyaev
  10. Satsang by Shastro

 

The 5 Best Folk Albums of the year

  1. The Great Plains by Thomas Dybdahl
  2. Gargoyle by Mark Lanegan Band
  3. Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes
  4. Semper Femina by Laura Marling
  5. Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood by Sun Kil Moon

 

The 5 Best Stoner Albums of the year

  1. The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues by John Garcia
  2. Emperor of Sand by Mastodon
  3. Sleeping Through The War by All Them Witches
  4. Wick by Royal Thunder
  5. Mount The Mountain by Mammoth Mammoth

 

 

Early Plays: Sleep Well Beast by The National

After the success of the last two albums, American indie giants The National are about to publish their new full-lenght work, named Sleep Well Beast, which is scheduled for release on September 8, 2017. The band has just shared a new single from the forthcoming album, Guilty Party, which follows the previous song The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness that was released on last May.

My impression is that both the two songs are absolutely amazing and the new album is going to be a major event of the year. The two tracks also show some clear element of innovation and experimentation, whilst keeping that subtle sense of melancholy that characterized all of their previous works.

 

Did you already listen to the new series of mixtape with the best of indie pop? Check it out:

 

Avishai goes Funky

Early this year, acclaimed Israeli bassist and composer Avishai Cohen announced the beginning of a new project, which he called Jazz Free (see here for my initial report). He started assembling a new band of musicians who – based on what he said – had little to do with standard Jazz. He also claimed that his new music is based on a new groovy sound, much different from his famous signature style which blends Middle-Eastern and eastern European traditions, and the new songs should manifest increased musical interactions among  different genres and many new influences from other types of music. The outcome of the project is a new album, named 1970, which at the moment is scheduled for release on October 17th, 2017.

Well, a few hours ago the Israeli artist eventually published on Youtube the first single extracted from the new album, called “Motherless Child“…. and in spite of the anticipations that Avishai himself gave on the new direction of his music, I remained speechless. Now I understand the meaning of Jazz Free!

The song is a cover of the homonymous Negro spiritual (which dates back to 1870, in the era of slavery), and it’s executed as a funky tune with a strong groovy rhythm and groovy guitars. There are strings in the background that keep the melodicity of the original song, and also gospel choirs. The song is  nice, vibrant, but completely different from the music we heard in his last releases. This is not a bad thing by itself, but certainly our beloved bassist would never have achieved the fame he has today with this kind of songs.

 

It’s too early to make a judgement on this experiment. I love those artists that try something different and want to embark into new challenges. And from time to time it may be necessary to move away from the main road to enrich your baggage of new experiences, so that you can be re-energized for when you come back to the most important route.

June 2017, Best Electronic Album of the Month: Savage Sinusoid by IGORRR

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I was expecting this album for ages, actually since I was literally shocked with their incredible 2012’s Hallelujah. 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 and there are absolutely no words to describe how much I love this record.

As a matter of fact, there is no way to properly capture Igorrr’s sound and style by just words, there is literally no way to categorize it and even the association with the Electronic music category may be questioned by someone. The best you can do if you’re not familiar with the production from Gautier Serre and his crazy bandmates 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.

On this record, electronic manipulations, accordion, saxophone, sitar, harpsichord, mandolin and strings sit comfortably alongside ruthless blastbeats, chunky riffs, death grunts and soaring operatic vocals – and as chaotic as this might sometimes seem, there is no lack of heart behind everything thundering from the speakers. (Igorrr.com)

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. Here it is one of these videos, look at how skilled are all the musicians involved.

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. I like it a lot, I’m listening to this album almost uninterruptedly since the first day I got it.