Quick Review: “When You Take Off Your Shoes”, by Nathan Shubert

The musical recipe developed by the Canadian musician Nathan Shubert is relatively simple but certainly effective. We have sketches of melancholic melodies or simple loops of notes played on a prepared piano, a background layer consisting of field recordings and other noises, and, more sporadically, delicate touches of strings and clarinet. Basically, it’s the typical structure of every modern electroacoustic song. Despite that, however, the album When You Take Off Your Shoes still manages to stand out from the mass of singles, EPs and LPs that are released on every week.

“When You Take Off Your Shoes “, album trailer

There are many different aspects that I enjoyed of this record. The first thing that impressed me has been the overall sense of delicacy and moderation that distinguishes the music composed by Shubert. There are no moments of particular tension or exciting progressions. On the contrary, the music of When You Take Off Your Shoes is always discrete, somehow peaceful, but at the same time without never becoming excessively flat or monotonous. Another good feature of the LP is that it’s possible to appreciate quite a relevant diversity among the various pieces of the album, which gives a certain dynamism to the listening experience.

From a thematic point of view, the compositions of this LP aim to represent the relationship between the universal sound of an instrument such as the piano, and the contemporary environment that surrounds it. This is the conceptual meaning of the field recordingsm, the subtle noises and the samples that we find in most of the pieces. These, to be honest, are balanced so well that they are never excessive or too much distracting.


Stylistically, Shubert’s music is clearly inspired by authors such as Nils Frahm and Chilly Gonzales, but still maintaining its own uniqueness.

My overall rating for this album is 6.5/10. This may be the perfect background for many different moments of your day: it will never require all of your attention but it will provide you with an elegant and absolutely enjoyable atmosphere.

Among the favourite songs I can mention the title track When You Take Off Your Shoes, but also A Beacon A Pulse and the delicate Lappeenranta.


The album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.


Songs from Subert’s new album are now featured in many of the playlists I’m curating on Spotify: you can find them in The ELECTROACOUSTIC Radar (best of electro-acoustic music in 2019) but also in SOUNDSCAPES (best of Ambient music) and TRANQUILLITY (the 100 best modern classical, ambient and electroacoustic songs of the last few years). Enjoy!


The MODERN CLASSICAL Radar (Episode #1/2019)

Modern classical music lives suspended between the present and the past, and this is why it often manages to represent, better than any other kind of music, that concept of universal and timeless beauty. Unfortunately, very often there are self-proclaimed composers pretending to describe like modern classical music something that is, in reality, only the result of a commercial manoeuvre aimed at conquering that large share of listeners who only want atmospheric and catchy songs to be put in the background while reading the emails on the phone.

For this reason, I consider it important to know how to discriminate between valuable music and songs with exclusively commercial purposes. What I’m trying to do in this series of articles is to provide my personal contribution to this kind of evaluation which, in the end, remains absolutely subjective. The judgments that I write for the various records do not intend to evaluate the qualities and the skill of the artists, but rather to provide my personal vision of the music they have composed for their recent publications.

In this first issue of the MODERN CLASSICAL radar, I have selected four albums as representatives of the most significant events of this first part of the week. Enjoy, and don’t forget to check the playlists that are suggested at the end of the article: there is plenty of good music to listen to!



“A Different Forest” by Hauschka

There are no doubts this time: the most significant event of this first part of the year for what concerns modern classical music has been the release of A Different Forest, the new album by German composer Volker Bertelmann, who operates under the moniker of Hauschka.

The LP features a collection of pieces for piano that are stylistically closer to the kind of classical music composed by artists like Philip Glass and Dmitry Shostakovich rather than to the commercial successes that are so succesfull nowadays. Nevertheless, the music of A Different Forest has a profundity and a technical depth which, today, is definitely out of the ordinary.

The album was included in the group of the best new albums selected by this blog, and you can thus read the full review of the LP from here.



“Pianette”, by Bruno Sanfilippo

Within the large family of composers of modern classical music, Bruno Sanfilippo is one who has taken the good habit to release, with a certain regularity, nice and elegant records. In 2018 we appreciated his intriguing and relatively experimental work named Unity and now, just at the beginning of 2019, we enjoy his brand new LP, named Pianette, which is a good representative of that current of minimalism that has been so successful in the recent years.

One of the things that I appreciated of this LP is the general sense of kindness and elegance that emerges from the songs. There is a stylistic coherence between the tracks that doesn’t become boring repetitiveness, and it’s really a pleasure to play the record in the background while we are busy in other activities.

I have published a review of the album, you can read it from here.



“Pieces for Piano Vol. 1”, by Chris Child

Electronic producer and musician Chris Child, from the U.S., is mostly known for the music he released under the moniker of Kodomo. He’s, however, the author of one of the first albums of modern classical music that we had the pleasure to hear in 2019. The LP, named Pieces for Piano Vol.1, is a collection of simple piano pieces with the addition of field recordings and other electronic elements.

Although the album is produced and recorded in a way that it seems absolutely charming and well-executed (at least according to the current standards for modern classical music), in reality what you realize after a few tracks is that these pieces are all characterized by a disarming simplicity. Many songs look like exercises for kids who are learning to play the piano when they are in the first weeks of music school. In this sense, the choice to inserts additional electronic sounds was taken presumably in order to fill that sense of flatness and chromatic poverty that would have resulted otherwise. And the paucity of musical content becomes more evident when we listen to the full album in a single run.

By the way, the release notes explain that the LP was composed with the intention of creating something simple, intimate and quiet. If I can agree that this music is generally relaxing and direct, I personally expected something more about the actual content of the songs.



“Kreise im Wasser”, by Christian Pensel

Crhistian Pensel is a young composer and multi-instrumentalist from Germany. He started to get recognition in the modern classical and electro-acoustic scenes both as an author of movie scores but also as a leader and composer for a series of interesting musical projects.

Pensel’s newest work is called Kreise im Wasser (Circles in the water) and it’s fully dedicated to the piano. Indeed, the first reaction I had when I started listening to the album was the admiration for the fantastic sounds that were coming out from the stereo. Not only Pensel’s piano has been recorded in an excellent way for the album, but to some extent, the whole record actually seems a celebration of this instrument: the single notes, the melodies, the sequences of chords, the progressions, all seem conceived to enhance the chromaticity and richness of the piano.

Beyond this specific aspect, however, I missed some really memorable piece and also I would have expected some more emotion and tension in the songs of Kreise im Wasser. In any case, the record is interesting and pleasant to listen to, especially in the evening, at home, sitting and in dim light.



As anticipated in the introduction, there are a number of playlists that I’m maintaining on Spotify that feature meditative and modern classical music.

First of all, I’m collecting the best songs of the year in THE MODERN CLASSICAL RADAR, which is now featuring only the songs from the LPs that were mentioned in this article, but it’s going to grow as new records are released.


Another playlist where it’s possible to listen to a lot of good modern classical music is BEAUTIFUL PIANO, with 100 different songs picked up one by one in the last couple of years.


If you like music for piano and you have a predilection for intimate and thoughtful songs, there is a playlist for you. It’s called MELANCHONIC PIANO and it’s also one of the most successful playlists of mine.


Best New Music: “A Different Forest” by Hauschka

In a situation where we’re literally flooded by masses of authors who claim to play “modern classical” music but who, in true honesty, propose nothing more than easy listening pop melodies performed on a piano, the arrival of an album like A Different Forest, from Hauschka, may seem something completely revolutionary. And this is because this new work is results definitely closer to the classical music for piano that was composed in the previous century (I have in mind the Etudes by Philip Glass‘ or the Preludes and Fugues by Dmitry Shostakovich) rather than to the commercial successes that have been released in more recent times by world acclaimed authors like Ludovico Einaudi, Daigo Hanada and Joep Beving.

“A Different Forest” is the fifteenth album by Hauschka (excluding EP and remix album). The album was officially released on February 8th, 2019

Hauschka is the alias of German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann

The surprise for me was even greater because the only single that I had the opportunity to enjoy prior the release of the LP was the song named Hike, which is curiously the most (and the only) similar to that genre of contemporary piano songs that I just mentioned, with its basic repeated element which resembles – even too dangerously – the beautiful motif from Flight from the City by Jóhann Jóhannsson.


The song Hike, in its original version and in an alternate and longer version (Another Hike), opens and closes the album. In between, the LP offers a sequence of impressive and absolutely original pieces of contemporary classical piano music. Thematically, as the title suggests, the songs are dedicated to the exploration of the world of nature, which for the author is epitomised by the image of a forest.

In A Different Forest, I’m focusing on the forest as a natural environment and contrast to the urban everyday life; to my surroundings. Where do I want to live and work? What surroundings do I need in order to feel fulfilled? By examining these questions I always come back to nature. How often have I gone for a walk and finished on the crest of a hill or mountain top, and found a new perspective on things. It’s quite a moving experience. The experience of the sublime. Realising that everything has been there for such a long time and will continue to exist, yet in contrast, our human existence is reduced to but a fraction of the earth’s history.

Haushka, from a commentary on his new LP

But what’s absolutely impressive of this LP, in my opinion. is not the didascalic aspect of the music, but the technical and compositional aspect of the songs. The music composed and played by Volker Bertelmann for Haushka’s new LP is profound and “ricercata” (any fan of György Ligeti here?). In the new pieces, we can appreciate the result of an in-depth study upon the harmonic aspect of modern music, and it’s impressive to hear how articulated sections of counterpoint flow into melodic and poetic moments of absolute beauty. I can cite as an example the song Skating through the Woods: it starts as an elaboration of an hexatonal scale but progressively, and in an extremely natural way, it evolves into a melancholic motif of rare delicacy. We experience in the short time span of 3 minutes and half an entire cultural journey that starts with Arnold Schoenberg and ends with Ólafur Arnalds. Brilliant.


Such an “evolutionary” approach is a mechanism that Haushka exploits many times in the album, it’s a sort of leitmotif of the LP. It’s as if Haushka wanted to underline how the melodies that we like to listen to, and in particular the most catchy ones, should be considered as only some particular cases among the thousand different permutations that are possible starting from the same basic set of sounds. These notes, when combined in an appropriate way, can produce sweet and delicate motifs or, when reorganized according to different sequences, other important aspects of the interaction between man and music, such as the rhythm, the chromatic contrast, or even the memory.

The fact that Volker Bertelmann wanted to deal with a more rigorous and formal approach to music may be deduced also from the fact that, unlike most of his recent works, in A Different Forest he’s not relying on his famous prepared piano, with which in the recent times he has produced some of his most interesting and experimental works. As a matter of fact, Hauschka’s previous LP, 2017’s What If, was reviewed within the electronic music section of this blog!

Hauschka, “Familiar Things Disappear”, from his previous album “What If” (2017)

Hauschka is thus confirmed as one of the most important and authoritative figures of modern classical music. And with its precious combination of formality, research and passion, A Different Forest enters the list of the most important piano records of the last few decades.

My overall rating for the LP is 9/10. All the songs are equally impressive and interesting to hear, and Just for the sake of suggesting some song I can mention: Everyone Sleeps, Ghosts, Curious, Hike and Another Hike.


A Different Forest can be streamed from Spotify, where it’s also featured in the playlist BEAUTIFUL PIANO (with almost six hours with the best music for piano of the last few years).



Quick Review: “Pianette” by Bruno Sanfilippo

Within the large family of composers of modern classical music, Bruno Sanfilippo is one who has taken the good habit to release, with a certain regularity, nice and elegant records. In 2018 we appreciated his intriguing and relatively experimental work named Unity and now, just at the beginning of the new year, we enjoy his brand new LP, named Pianette, which is more close to that current of minimalism that has been so successful in the recent years.

Sanfilippo’s biography says that the Argentinian musician graduated from the Galvani Conservatory in Buenos Aires with a degree in Musical Composition, and that since his early years he was influenced by classical composers such as Satie, Debussy and Ravel. In 2000 Sanfilippo left his native Country and moved to Barcelona, where he effectively started his career as composer. He evidently adapted the style of the masters to the simpler and more commercial tastes of the current audience of listeners and, as a matter of fact, all of his records have the merit of an absolute ease of listening. This approach is fully confirmed in Pianette. If, one one side, this is partly due to the essentiality of the pieces he wrote for the album, on the other hand it demonstrates the ability of Sanfilippo to compose melodic motifs that are fascinating and pleasant despite their intrinsic simplicity.


The attentive listeners, and especially those who have had any direct experience with the piano, will easily understand, however, that much of the charm and delicacy of Pianette are due to the soft and delicate effects that are applied on Sanfilippo’s instruments, in particular the subtle echoes and the mechanical repetitions that are generated on each note he plays. These, which appear at first as just small alterations of the sound of the piano, in the end contribute significantly to the dreamy atmospheres of the songs, and fill the void that we would hear between the notes if the same melodies were played on a non-prepared instrument. Beyond this effect, however, the melodic development of the songs of Pianette is extremely good, as well as the sensibility that’s used by Sanfilippo to move between major and minor scales. I believe that this specific aspect of his music is brilliant, and effective, and it has nothing to do with the “smart” mechanisms that he uses to process and improve the sound of the piano.


One of the things that I appreciate the most of Pianette is the general sense of kindness and elegance that emerges from the songs of the album. There is a stylistic coherence between the tracks that doesn’t become boring repetitiveness, and it’s really a pleasure to play the record in the background while we are busy in other activities. There are of course a few tracks that stand out over the others and which may capture our attention from what we’re doing in that moment. These include the first two songs of the album: the title track and the beatiful piece Doll, which is maybe one of the best of the entire album. The last song of the LP, named Goodness, highlights that capacity to move between major and minor scales that I was introducing before.

At the same time though, there are still a few pieces in Pianette which approach that dangerous boundary which exists between minimalism and extreme simplicity. But fortunately there is always something special in Sanfilippo’s music which precludes his songs to stay on the wrong side of the line.

My rating for the album is 6.5/10.

Pianette is available on bandcamp and it may be streamed also from Spotify.



Bruno Sanfilippo is now featured in BEAUTIFUL PIANO, the playlist with the best and latest songs for piano.



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.



MUSIC FOR PIANO: a selection of the best pieces for piano released in 2018

Among the musical genres that have benefited the most from the worldwide diffusion of the modern platforms for the distribution of digital music, there are electro-acoustic and minimal music. Thanks to universal success achieved by famous Spotify playlists such as Peaceful Piano, Piano Ballads and Piano in the Background, we’re literally invaded by hundreds of new composers promoting their pieces for piano. Unfortunately, however, such proliferation of artists had the collateral effect we often come across to self-proclamed piano artist whose main talent is not the music, but rather the capacity to intercept the trends and to satisfy the tastes of the casual listeners.

In my endless research for the most beautiful songs I bump into a lot of insignificant music. As a result, finding truly valuable songs for piano music has become increasingly difficult, and that’s basically the reason why I like so much to select and collect every single good piece I come across.

Browsing into the entries of my collections I identified a group of songs that are among the best pieces for piano released since the beginning of the year. Fortunately this list doesn’t exhaust the number of good songs that were released in 2018 and other articles could easily follow this one. The songs in this page, in any case, provide you with an excellent representation of the status of contemporary piano music.


 

Saman, by Ólafur Arnalds, from the album re:member.

 

Rays of Light, by Tigran Hamasyan, from the EP Rays of Light.

 

In Metaphor, Solace, by Luke Howard, from the album Open Heart Story.

 

The Roughest Trade, by Nils Frahm, from the EP Encores 1.

 

Sesal, by Kristoffer Wallin, from the album The River.

 

Present Tense, by Chilly Gonzales, from the album Solo Piano III.

 

Nagorno Mist, by Vusal Zeinalov, from the EP Beauty of Kura.

 

Martello, by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, from the album Epoques.

 

Continuum, by Michael Logozar, fromt the album Kaleidoscope.

 

Faithful, by Chad Lawson, from the album Home Sweet Home: The 2018 Lore Variations.


 

 

Quick Review: “Epoques” by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch

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 her experimental electro-acoustic albums. The music played by the London based artist is not easy to describe in a few words, let me just say that it’s substantially modern classical music with the insertion of sparse but effective electronic parts.

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 partially 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.

You shall definitely try the experience of playing this music at high volume on your headphones, at night, with nothing else to do than stay relaxed and feel the chill on your skin.

Epoques is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.

Standout tracks: Martello and Fracture Points.

 


 

BEAUTIFUL PIANO

It started as a simple place where to collect nice and delicate pieces for piano, and in a short time it has become one of my favorite playlists for the moments when I need to disconnect from the thousand thoughts on what I have done and what I have to do. That’s the magic of music.

Beatiful Piano is the playlist I manage on Spotify for celebrating the beauty of piano. All the tracks have been “handpicked” one by one over the years, and it’s impressive for me to recognize that today the playlist exceeds four and a half hours in duration. The rule that I gave myself to update Beautiful Piano is simple: no compromises on quality. The playlist features only the best songs, whether these are from new artists or legends of modern classical or electro acoustic music. Compared to many other playlists that are circulating on Spotify there will probably be less frequent updates, but on the other hand I want to provide my listeners with only the best and “forward thinking” piano music.

Enjoy it, follow it, spread the word.

 

 


 

Quick Review: “Broken Access” by Theo Alexander

Theo Alexander is a relatively young English composer of contemporary classical music and Broken Access is his newest LP, 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 music 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 I would like to conclude by saying that this record 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.

Broken Access is available on Bandcamp or can be streamed from Spotify.

My favorite songs are the first two tracks of the LP: Palliative and Hammer Frenzy.

 

“Haunting” is a lazy and inaccurate way to describe one’s sound, except when you’re talking about London composer Theo Alexander. Layers of piano echo on top of each other to create an ancient, claustrophobic sound that sounds eerie and beautiful (from the press quotes of the album on Bandcamp)

 


 

BEST ELECTRONIC MUSIC OF 2018 (Episode 2: from January to September)

Here we are again talking about the best electronic music albums of the year. With respect to the first episode which was published on last April, the list has expanded and it now features ten albums. The first two positions of the chart remains unchanged, but there are interesting new entries in the other positions on the list.

Arrived at this point of the year, the following collection of records represents a good summary of the state of electronic music in 2018 and we must say that the one which emerges is an extremely positive picture: there are young artists entering the scene with innovative and experimental works but also already established artists that demonstrate to have still the willingness and the curiosity to experiment new expressive languages.

Let’s see which are the ten best electronic albums of 2018 so far. An in the time which remains until the end of the year we’ll discover if there are new albums which will contend the place to those who are today in the chart. In this respect, if you arrived here through a search engine, please check in the electronic section of the blog if there is any update of the list. Enjoy!

 


 

#1) SKYGGE, “Hello World”

(Electro Pop)

 

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Benoit Carré is a French singer, composer, musician and actor. He has written songs for some of France’s biggest stars, and in the recent times he collaborated with Sony’s Computer Science Laboratories in Paris to produce the pioneering album “Hello World”, which he released under the pseudonym of SKYGGE (“Shadow” in Danish)

Hello World, the experimental work by SKYGGE, was fully reviewed in a dedicated post when the album entered the Best New Music section of the blog. The album is the result of a research project in which scientists were looking for algorithms to capture and reproduce the concept of musical “style”. After a number of initial prototypes, a first group of electronic music artists joined the research team and at some point they took control of the process, and the scientific project became a music project. These artists were invited and coordinated by Benoit Carré (aka SKYGGE) and their work became the beautiful Hello World.

The album is based on the idea to feed computer machines with sounds and melodies selected by every artist as input. Deep learning algorithms are then applied in order to allow the artificial intelligence module to elaborate and refine musical elements that are stylistically similar to the initial ones, but “new”.

 From a musical point of view, the album is strongly influenced by European electronic music and in the end it results in an excellent collection of modern and forward thinking electronic tracks. And it’s not by chance that after many months, the album is still a the top of the electronic chart.


 

#2) Jenny Wilson, “Exorcism”

(Electro Pop, Art Pop)

 

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Jenny Wilson is a Swedish singer-songwriter. She founded and played with First Floor Power until 2004, when she left the band to go solo. Since then she has released five LPs.

Exorcism, which is the fifth and newest LP released by Swedish Pop artist Jenny Wilson, tells in music the terrible story of a sexual assault that the songwriter experienced a few years ago while clubbing. This element by itself could guarantee for the album a deeper element of analysis and interpretation with respect to the typical electro-pop album, but the reality is that the feelings of tension, disturbance and anguish that are spread all-over the tracks of the record are evident and may be perceived even by the casual listener who doesn’t know the full story which is behind the album.

The artist, however, managed to tell her painful story without ever making the music monotonous, didascalic and depressing. On the contrary, Exorcism features a collection of extremely interesting, varied and intriguing songs that disseminate their load of insecurity and alienation in an absolutely subtle way and, because of that, the result is extremely sharp and effective.


 

#3) Floex and Tom Hodge, “Portrait of John Doe”

(Experimental, Modern Classical)

 

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Tom Hodge‘s collaborative relationship with Czech producer Tomas Dvorak, a.k.a Floex, began with a chance meeting in Berlin. After a series of initial experiments in making music together, H0dge and Floex have been working on A Portrait of John Doe, an album collaboration created with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Tomáš Dvořák is a composer and graphic artist from Czech Republic who works under the moniker of Floex. Despite his relatively young age, Dvořák’s discography is already rich of a good number of interesting albums where he blends together heterogeneous genres like classical music, electronic and jazz, showing great technique and a notable musical sensibility, Three years ago Dvořák started a collaboration with English composer and musician Tom Hodge and their efforts resulted in the release of Portrait of John Doe, recorded with support of the renowned Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Portrait of John Doe is an incredible album. It has unique and extravagant arrangements, it’s conceptual and “forward thinking”, but, most important, it’s absolutely nice and joyful to listen. To some extent, I feel it’s destined to leave a strong mark in the experimental and avant-gard electronic music scene. The album is filled with many hints and references from modern classical music. There are clear hints and references to both the orchestral and electronic works by Philip Glass, and we have rarified and haunting atmospheres like those we find in some of the works of Bela Bartok and Dmitrij Šostakovič.

Portrait of John Doe is an ambitious record that was done very well, plenty of surprises and absolutely innovative. This music is really different from everything you’ve heard in the recent times and it really deserves the time (and the effort) that are necessary to enjoy its crystalline beauty without too many distractions and interruptions.


 

#4) Go Dugong, “Curaro”

(World and Cosmic Electronic)

 

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Go Dugong is the solo-project of italian electronic producer, Dj and graphic artist Giulio Fonseca.

Electronic music, together with Jazz, is pheraps one of the genres of music that is intrinsically more open to the idea of fusing together different influences and styles. And practically every year I happen to listen to a record that succeeds, more than any other, to amaze me for the originality with which different musical elements are combined together in such a natural and fluid way that the final result is something new and exciting, and much more than the mere superimposition of the original building blocks.

Last year I felt this with Shikantanza, the beautiful album by French electronic collective Chinese Man. In 2018, the moment of wonder and revelation occurred when I launched in my music player the first songs of Curaro, i.e. the new album by Go Dugong, which is the solo-project of the Italian electronic producer Giulio Fonseca. I didn’t know what to expect at first and I was absolutely surprised to hear such a masterful blending of chillout, trip hop, sensual dub, world music, dance beats, tribal sounds and ethnological field recordings.

Curaro is really one of those records that is made to let your mind travel into distant worlds and remote enivornments, but conceived and performed by having in mind a clear and winning characteristic: the absolute enjoyability of the single tracks.


 

#5) Carpenter Brut, “Leatherwave”

(Synthwave)

 

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Franck Hueso, better known by his stage name Carpenter Brut, is a French synthwave artist from Poitiers. He started writing music as Carpenter Brut with the intention of mixing sounds from horror films, metal, rock, and electronic music

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 experienced 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 moved away from heavy metal in order to pursue a career in electronic muisc. After a number of EPs and one live record he eventually released his debut full-lenght album, Leather Teeth, which offers to the listener a curious but intriguing old-fashioned kind of synthwave.

The LP is very particular: initially it may leave you a little perplexed because the use of the typical sounds and instruments from the 80s is so blatant and pervasive than the album seems a little anachronistic. After the initial impact, however, we’re captured by the melodies and the nice rhythms of the songs, which are 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.


 

#6) Justice, “Woman Worldwide”

(Alternative Dance, Nu Dance, Electronic Rock)

 

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Justice is a French electronic music duo consisting of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay. known for incorporating a strong rock and indie influence into its music and image.

Justice have taken the good habit of publishing a live record after each studio album and this year, after the conclusion of the Woman World Wide tour, which promoted the release of their 2016’s studio album Woman, the band as published a new live album, called Woman Worldwide (or WWW).

This live album is fantastic in the sense that it mixes in a exciting and always surprising way all the hits that the band has released so far in their career, and the mixes are so good that most of the songs seem even better than their original versions. Predictably the songs of their early works prevail definitely on the others. Justice early works shine with a special light of beauty and as a matter of fact, by mixing together old and new songs, the latter gain in beauty and look much more enjoyable that their corresponding studio versions.

All of Justice’s live LPs, including the most recent one, provide us with an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful and exciting ride into electronic music. They also make me think about what this band could have become without the desire of producing that sort of electronic vintage rock style which has eventually anesthetized their music in recent years.


 

#7) Pola Rise, “Anywhere But Here”

(Electro Pop)

 

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Polish singer and composer Paulina Miłosz, working under the pseudonym of Pola Rise, appeared for the first time musically in 2014. Since then she has performed with various artists and in 1038 she released her first solo album, “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. She published a number of singles from 2014 and eventually got a record deal with Warner Music Poland, which supported the publication of her full lenght work.

Her style of electronic music oscillates between pieces of clear experimental nature with notes of avant-garde, and more delicate and catchy songs, which in my opnion are also the ones that better highlight the qualities of this young artist. Anywhere But Here is particularly interesting because of the way in which it is able to give that “indie” feeling to a set of songs that, in their essence, result quite linear and without any particular dynamic development.

The album offers the listener a nice collection of musical sketches, interesting and enjoyable to hear, gifted by a “light” touch make them the perfect companion for many moments of our days.


 

#8) Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Async-Remodels”

(Experimental)

 

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Ryuichi Sakamoto is a Japanese musician, singer, composer and record producer, based in Tokyo and New York. In 2017 the artist released is nineteenth solo studio album, “async“, which became the source of inspiration for the remix album “async – remodels

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: it collects the work of a group of talented electronic 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, they enriched the songs with new and original elements. In this respect there are some tracks of the album, such as those by Alva Noto, Electric Youth and Jóhann Jóhannsson (R.I.P.), which are evidently a step higher than the others. In the end, however, it’s the average level of the record that’s very good, making the LP one of the most interesting things happened this year in electronic music.


 

#9) Moby, “Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt”

(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.


 

#10) tUnE-YaRds, “I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life”

(Experimental, Electro Pop)

 

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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 New Music: SOLO PIANO III by Chilly Gonzales

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 my expectations for his new work were literally skyrocketing. And from the moment when I could eventually get my hands on his new LP, it plays almost uninterruptedly in my music player.

 

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Grammy-winning Canadian pianist and entertainer Chilly Gonzales, currently living in Europe.

 

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. Compared to the hundreds of piano collections that today are popular on Spotify and other platforms, here there is an attention to the details that requires the listener to stay focused on each single song, a capacity that perhaps many have lost in these times when we are literally bombarded with music that is easy to listen to and without any depth. Let’s say then that if “Solo Piano III” still remains a nice and delicated album that you can play in the background during a rainy day or when you’re in front of the fireplace, for those who are keen and capable to listen carefully there is an additional dimension  that is mostly due by the uniqueness of each single piece of the collection.

 

 

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-up to this wonderful and unique musical project.

Solo Piano III completes the Solo Piano trilogy. Like any final act, there are complications and consequences, followed by an urgent race to the finish line. Like its predecessors, it’s a mostly happy ending in C major, but there is more dissonance, tension and ambiguity along the way. The musical purity of Solo Piano III is not an antidote for our times, it is a reflection of all the beauty and ugliness around us. (from the artist’s webpage)

 

 

Solo Piano III is available for streaming on Spotify.


 

 

 

Quick Review: “Re:Member” by Ólafur Arnalds

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 multi-instrumentalist and 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 Ólafur 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.

I felt the need to write the above as an introduction to the considerations that I developed after listening for a couple of times to the new and long-awaited album of Ólafur Arnalds, named Re: member, which constitutes 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, like me, have enjoyed all of his previous works. These music lovers will surely appreciate the attempt of the artist to evolve his music towards new grounds and to challenge himself with new paths. Re: member will not be the most catchy and enjoyable entry in Arnalds’ wide catalogue of songs, 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.

The album can be streamed from Spotify.

My favorite songs are: saman, ekki ugsa and the title-track re:member.

BEAUTIFUL PIANO, The Playlist

In my continuous and uninterrupted search for the most evocative and emotional pieces of music, I often find myself writing down in the margin of a notebook the title of a particular piece that has captured my attention more than the others. At night, at home, while I work on a report that I have to present at work on the next day or simply try to stay up-to-date on the main events of the day, I let the same melodies flow through my headphones. And this is how many of my playlists are born.

One of the collection of pieces that in the recent times is giving me the greatest satisfaction also in terms of listeners and comments is by far the one entitled Beautiful Piano, the playlist in which I select the best pieces for piano that are recorded and release by famous artists or young music promises. Beautiful Piano is upated regularly with new pieces, but there are special moments when the compilation reaches a state of maturity and a magical moment of equilibrium among the pieces. This is one of these particular situations, and I’m here to stop the time for a short juncture and capture this beautiful collection of music which will resume anyway soon its natural evolution and transformation.

Among the artists who contributed in recent times to the playlist we have:

  • Feico Deutekom, a jazz musician whose latest project (Feico Solo) is a piano album with music of Philip Glass, David Lang, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Douwe Eisenga, John Adams, Arvo Pӓrt, Nils Frahm, Clint Mansell and Max Richter.
  • Luca Ciut, an Italian film music composer who has recently released his second album, called Per Me Solo Per Me, Per Te Solo, where he plays delicate piano solo tracks influenced by composers such as Ludovico Einaudi and Max Richter.
  •  Tigran Hamasyan, a genius of modern music, a pianist who manages to merge potent jazz improvisation with the rich folkloric music of his native Armenia. Tigran has recently released a new beautiful EP, called For Gyumri, that has already populated many different playlist of mine.
  • Remi Panossian, another young jazz musician who plays with his trio but who has been regularly performing solo since his debut. His last work for solo piano, Do, is an inexhaustible source of sweetness and melodies.
  • Akira Kosemura, the Japanes musician who has given us so many beautiful tiny and delicate pieces for piano that bascially no playlist of this kind would make sense without his presence.

There are many other great artists included in the collection, you will discover them by simply launching the playlist and enjoying the music. Let the magic of piano illuminate your soul, or bring a caress of comfort on some particularly complicated day.


 

If you enjoyed the playlist and its commentary, you may be interested in reading these other posts that were published recently in the blog:

 


 

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: ALL MELODY by Nils Frahm

 

There are some records that we appreciate for the songs they contain, while others release all their value when we consider them as a single work, articulated perhaps into different tracks but in any case oeprating as correlated elements within the same music score. All Melody, which is the last work by German composer Nils Frahm, belongs to this second category. The experience that I had with this album can be summarized as follows: the first time I listened to it, this work left me quite indifferent: there were for sure a few moments of great elegance and delicacy, but there was no song that generated any particular emotion. I left the record playing in background (in repeat mode) while I was busy preparing some document, and after a while I started to realize that part of my thoughts were turned to the music, carried away and enjoying all the whispered melodies that this album is plenty of. And at that time, all of a sudden, the crystalline beauty of this work was finally revealed to me. And I eventually 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 susceptible to movements that occur outside the field of view, in the same way these tender notes gather together in a perfect melody only when the focus of our mind is not completely focused on the musical structure of the song.

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From a musical point of view, this album by Nils Frahm is characterized by very slow rhythms and an extremely minimal approach to composition. The typical elements of his 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 his discography. But be careful, if the compositional structure is so essential, the tonal and dynamic aspects of the songs are absolutely rich. 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. One of the typical characteristics of Frahm’s music – which is here exalted in an astonishing way, almost magical in some points – is the capacity of this musican to transform, gently and impercetibly, conventional piano and organ sounds into electronic elements. The picture is then completed with the nice and original introduction of choirs and wind instruments.

In the broader context of Nils Frahm’s discography, All Melody is the first one produced after the construction of a special recording studio inside an art house in Berlin (which was so important for the album that it’s the subject of the LP’s cover). It took two years of work to complete the preparation of this room according to what were the strict requirements of Frahm, and if this album is the first result of the project, we can only wait with expectation and excitement to the upcoming albums that will be made there.

Since the day Nils first encountered the impressive studio of a family friend, he had envisioned to create one of his own at such a large scale. Fast forward to the present day and Nils is now the proud host of Saal 3, part of the historical 1950s East German Funkhaus building beside the River Spree. It is here where he has spent most of his time deconstructing and reconstructing the entire space from the cabling and electricity to the woodwork, before moving on to the finer elements; building a pipe organ and creating a mixing desk all from scratch with the help of his friends. This is somewhere music can be nurtured and not neglected, and where he can somewhat fulfil his pursuit of presenting music to the world as close to his imagination as possible. (Bandcamp)

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Funkhaus Studios, Berlin.

 

All Melody was released on January 26th, 2018, by Erase Tape Records