Enjoy this mixtape with some of the best and most melancholic folk songs released so far in 2019. I tried to compose the ideal soundtrack for a walk in the rain, at sunset. Eight songs, thirty minutes of musical beauty and delicacy.
Speaking about the skills and talent of German-born pianist Benny Lackner, someone once said that he doesn’t have to be afraid of any comparisons to composers like Keith Jarrett or Brad Mehldau, and that “he has found his place in the upper league of Jazz Piano Trios“. Of course, this looks like an important and bold statement, which in any case reinforces an objective reality: the music composed by Lackner and played by the pianist with his bandmates is absolutely profound and engaging.
I can’t judge today whether the comparison between Lackner and the two above mentioned masters of “Jazz Trio” is correct or not. What I can say, for sure, is that the direction undertaken by Lackner to reach the top seems the right one one. Jarreth and Mehldau (who’s been one of Lackner’s mentors, by the way) have contributed to the development of this genre of Jazz with a depth and a resonance that perhaps is still unsurpassed; Lackner’s musical production, in any case, can be definitely considered within the most precious and exciting things we heard in the last few years.
Drake is the new album from the Benny Lackner Trio, and since the first time I started listening to it there has been one special thing which amazed me more everything else, and this is the adoption of an extremely essential musical language, at times minimal, which is incredibly far from those mere demonstrations of technique and virtuosity that too often we hear in modern Jazz. In this sense, Lackner has found a extremely personal code for breaking the rules of standard Piano Trio music. The modernity and innovation of Lackner ‘s style, to some extent, are the characteristics that bring him closer to the giants of Jazz that were mentioned before.
Drake offers to the listeners a very elegant, sober, and extremely delicate collection of Jazz music blended with contemporary electronic elements. The piano is at the centre of every composition, but we would make a great mistake by relegating the two supporting musicians (bassist Jerome Regard and drummer Matthieu Chazarenc) to the role of pure accompaniment. The two are in fact the architects of those rarefied and magical atmospheres that we find in all the tracks of the LP.
The rhythms in Drake are moderately slow. All the chords, and sometimes the single notes, seem to arrive after a profound phase of reflection on the harmonic and melodic effect they will produce on the song. There is little sense of spontaneousness, and we don’t feel either the immediacy of the typical Jazz improvisation process, which is however compensated by a persistent attention to maintaining a constant sonic balance throughout the pieces.
The result is a music that, at least from an objective point of view, should appear cold, almost mathematical, but that actually evokes continuous streams of emotions. That’s the magic and uniqueness of Lackner’s music, which, in the end, is absolutely enjoyable to listen to.
My overall rating for the LP is 8/10. This is one of the best Jazz albums among those I’ve listened so far in 2019. It’s not easy to indicate which are my favourite pieces because it’s the overall level of quality of the LP which makes the difference. Anyway, there are a bunch of songs which evoked the strongest emotions: Tears, It’s Gonna Happen, Yorke and the opening track I Told You so.
Drake is available on iTunes and it can be streamed also from Spotify. The album is now featured in The JAZZ MUSIC Radar, which is the playlist collecting the best Jazz songs released since the beginning of the year.
Since the beginning of 2019, we could enjoy a good number of valid and interesting folk music albums and we are already able to point out which are the best records of the year (up to now). The first episode of this chart refers to the first quarter of 2019 and it features five different albums spanning from indie to traditional Scottish folk. Enjoy this article and stay tuned for future updates!
#5) “Tomb”, by Angelo De Augustine
Sometimes you meet with artists, or records, that manage to transmit you strong emotions independently from the specific music they play. Tomb, which is the latest LP released by American singer-songwriter Angelo De Augustine, represents one of these cases. The LP is third of a discography which includes his self-released debut album, 2011’s Spirals of Silence, and his previous 2017’s LP named Swim Inside the Moon.
Tomb develops over a profound and universal statement: we grow up following some dreams that, at same point in our life, may be erased because of external factors. There are two ways to cope whit that: we give up or we try to emerge from the darkness of our disillusions, elaborating the loss and trying to come out stronger than before.
Listening to the music of Angelo De Augustine is like enjoying the recitation of a poem, and in this sense his work is actually in between these two different forms of art.
The album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. Here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with additional details on the record and also a few videos to see.
#4) “Those Who Roam”, by Claire Hastings
Traditional Scottish Folk
The biography of young Scottish folksinger and songwriter Claire Hastings says that despite already at primary school her teachers noticed how good was her voice, she didn’t pursue music until she arrived at the University. In a few years, however, she managed to compensate for all the time lost and, impressively, she was named “BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year” even before releasing her debut album (Between River and Railway). This year Hastings has released her second LP, named Those Who Roam, and we may enjoy once again the talent of one of the most promising figures of contemporary folk.
The element that stands out the most in this record is for sure the beautiful voice of the singer, while the musical part is not always at the same level. Those Who Roam is like a nice walk in a flowery park, under the sun. A sun that, however, still can’t make you feel warm, it’s only a slight sensation that you have on the skin.
Those Who Roam is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. Here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with more information and a couple of songs to enjoy.
#3) “Ode to a Friend” by Old Sea Brigade
After releasing a number of intriguing and appreciated short publications, American singer-songwriter Ben Cramer, who plays under the moniker of Old Sea Brigade, eventually released his debut full-length record, named Ode to a Friend. Despite arriving after four previous EPs, the songs of the new album are all unpublished and the new material shows the capacity that has been developed by Cramer – in just a few years – in defining a style that is quite unique and personal, moving with ease among folk, Americana and ambient soundscapes.
Ode to a Friend is an album that’s absolutely poetic and fascinating, something which has the capacity to take us away from the chaos, but which also requires extremely quiet environments in order to be fully appreciated. And if most of the tracks of the LP are still built on Cramer’s finger-picked guitar and echo effects, for the first time we enjoy in his songs also a wider palette of sounds which includes notes from a distant piano or gentle layers of synths.
#2) “Le Ceneri di Heliodoro”, by Rome
Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is the latest release from Luxembourg’s folk master Jérôme Reuter, who operates under the name of Rome. This is the most recent entry in a very large discography which features more than 10 LPs and many other EPs, all of them devoted to telling fascinating stories which interconnect ancient wars with the struggles of modern times.
Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is an album that manages to be at the same time profound, conceptual but still absolutely enjoyable to listen to. From a musical point of view, the album doesn’t deviate substantially from the dark folk that has been offered in all the previous releases from Reuter, with the exception of an increased presence – in the new album – of “martial” elements. The LP starts with a sequence of impressive and absolutely brilliant songs, gifted by some of the most beautiful melodies we heard in recent times.
Best Folk Album of 2019 (so far)
“Crushing”, by Julia Jacklin
INDIE FOLK / INDIE POP
Julia Jacklin is an Australian singer and songwriter based in Sydney, and she has released in late February 2019 her second LP, Crushing, which follows her 2016’s impressive debut studio album, Don’t Let the Kids Win. Similarly to what happened on the occasion of her first record, the first thing which impresses of Crushing is the remarkable emotional intensity of the songs. These are reflections and flashes made by the artist on her life and her past experiences, translated into music with a naturalness and a sense of urgency and immediacy that cannot leave us indifferent.
From a musical point of view, the songs of Crushing stay right on the border that separates indie pop from folk. The instrumentation, in particular, is that typical of folk music: the tracks develop mainly on Julia’s voice and guitar, with a simple rhythmic session made by repeated notes of bass and slow beats on the drums. Rarely we hear a piano. The simplicity of the arrangement, however, is compensated by warm and beautiful sounds of all the instruments, which in the end enhance the sense of intimacy of the tracks.
Crushing is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. The album was included in this blog’s Best New Music category and here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with more information and also a couple of singles to enjoy.
All the best indie folk songs that were released since the beginning of the year are collected in the Playlist called The INDIE FOLK Radar, which features all the artists included in this chart bat also other remarkable songs from artists like Sun Kil Moon, Meat Puppets, Mandoline Orange, and many others. Listen to it and follow it: the playlist is periodically updated with new tracks.
I believe that the combination of heavy metal with folk and epic music is one of the most successful of the last thirty years. These two genres seem to have been born to be blended together and one reinforces the other. Unfortunately, however, all successful discoveries attract hordes of bands without ideas and creativity that seek to emerge by just following trends and fashions, without adding anything new to the genre that they play.
For this reason, I think it’s important to isolate those bands that really manage to produce something interesting and valid. In the case of folk metal music, I’m convinced that this means being able to produce songs that are folk and metal, which is something different from playing folk music with heavy metal instruments, or heavy metal with some folk melody inside.
In the first episode of my new digest dedicated to folk metal I’m presenting five albums that I consider the most relevant among those published since the beginning of 2019. You’ll find here both well-established formation but also some interesting underground stuff. As far as geography is concerned, we have one band from Noway (Týr), one from Italy (Furor Gallico), one from Denmark (Vanir), one from Romania (Dirty Shirts), and a multi-national collaborative project (Ahl Sina).
Enjoy this first episode of the folk metal radar, and stay tuned for future updates.
“Hel”, by Týr
Without any doubt, one of the most awaited events by all folk metal enthusiasts was the publication of the new album by Týr, the legendary band from the Faroe Islands. The LP, called Hel, interrupts in fact a gap of six years from their previous publication, which is also the longest time between two albums that they ever experienced to date.
Once released, Hel confirmed to be a very good record. In this respect, all the years that were spent waiting for the new album have been rewarded by the release of one of the most engaging and solid folk metal records of the recent times.
Those who have been following the band throughout their long career were probably expecting something even more brilliant, an album that could shine in the night like the “Northern Star” that the band was aiming in one of their most famous songs. But when a band is as good as Týr, it manages to excite even when it doesn’t reach the highest peaks of its production.
I’ve published a dedicated review of Týr‘s new album, you can read it from here.
“Troops of Pain”, by Ahl Sina
In the early days of the year, I had the opportunity to listen to an odd album called Troops of Pain, played by a curious band named Ahl Sina. After some study, I learned that Troops of Pain was conceived almost ten years ago, but only in recent times, the members of the band found themselves in the right condition to record and release the material. Ahl Sina, in true honesty, should be treated more as a collaborative project rather than a proper band, if only because their members never met and they assembled the songs by putting together pieces that were recorded in separate countries.
It’s not the first time that I come across to such kind of projects and usually the results depend very much on the basic idea that generated the collaboration, in particular on how strong and cohesive is the originating concept, because this shall compensate for the loss of naturalness that’s naturally caused by the absence of a direct and immediate relationship between the musicians. In the case of Ahl Sina, the unifying element was the idea to mix together the elements of traditional middle eastern music with the sounds of progressive metal and to use the music to tell about ancient, fascinating and timeless stories. Nothing particularly new, to tell the truth, and in fact, the album in its essence looks like one of many other entries in the widely explored genre of Oriental Extreme Metal. But there were two things that caught my attention and made me reconsider my first (negative) reaction about the LP.
First: in the album there are actually a few particularly nice and catchy songs (the best one, for me, is called Miracle Demise); when we listen to these tracks we manage to forget, at least for a brief span of time, the inaccuracies and defects that today affect Ahl Sina’s music: from the fairly approximate musical production which generated the muffled sounds we hear in the album, to the songwriting (practically there isn’t any harmonic development in the songs of the LP: all the instruments, and also the voice, seem to follow the same melodic lines).
Secondly, beyond the stylistic considerations, I perceive in this debut LP a genuineness of intents and a passion for oriental music and folk legends that effectively impregnate all the songs of the album. Therefore, despite Troops of Pain is definitely far from being the album which can shake and revolt the world of folk metal, there is still something good and curious in this music, something which makes this project worthy of a mention, and also of our encouragement for the future.
“Dark of the Ages”, by Furor Gallico
I am extremely pleased to mention in this article the new release from an Italian band that has already collected some notoriety in the international folk metal scene. The band is called Furor Gallico, they come from Lombardia, in the Northern part of my beautiful peninsula, and they have already turned ten years of activity.
Dusk of the Ages is Furor Gallico’s third and newest LP. The album offers a new collection of nice melodic songs that are inspired by the stories and the sounds of the Celtic tradition. One of the key characteristics of this album is definitely the duality: two voices (one growling and one angelic), two languages (some songs are in Italian, others in English), two types of sound (moments of melodic death metal are opposed to atmospheric sections with acoustic arrangements). All of these contrasting elements guarantee an internal dynamic for the songs that keep the record alive from the beginning to the end, although the musical offer remains somehow restricted within the same track that has already been travelled by many other bands.
A special note of merit goes to the acoustic sections, which in my opinion give the most exciting moments of the album. Who knows what would happen if these guys will decide one day to switch to 100% acoustic music.
“Allfather”, by Vanir
Danish band Vanir is not a newcomer in the international folk metal scene, as witnessed by the fact that as the band is turning the ten years of career they have already released their fifth studio album, called Allfather. Despite a certain prolificity in publications, however, these musicians from Roskilde have not yet achieved a celebrity and a success comparable to the commitment they have always shown in the production of new material.
Will Allfather be the record capable of projecting the band higher up in the ladder of success? Honestly, I’m not sure. The metal formula that this band proposes, in fact, seems too much a hybrid of different things that is likely to leave quite dissatisfied both those who seek epic and catchy songs and those who instead adore more complex and articulated musical structures. Vanir’s new record, in this respect, is quite in the middle between these two characteristics of folk/Viking metal, without being effective in either of them.
In summary, Allfather is an album with lots of good ideas and which highlights the dedication and the passion of the band when playing their music. At the same time, if I still recommend it for the diehard fans of Viking metal, the LP won’t remain among the things that have impressed me the most in this first part of the year.
“Letchology”, by Dirty Shirt
When we speak about the combination of metal with world music or folk music, typically we have in mind those cases where metal is influenced by Celtic, Nordic or Middle Eastern traditions. Every so often, however, we come across formations that are coming from areas of the World that are quite distant from the usual ones and, in these case, we may enjoy more curious variations of the “metal folk” recipe.
Last year we were impressed by Alien Weaponry, a young band from New Zealand which debuted with a formidable collection of groove songs marked by the sounds and the hymns of the Maori tradition. This year we could appreciate an album from Romania which is offering to the fans of this kind of mixtures a nice and funny version of metal that’s impregnated with the sounds and the melodies from Eastern Europe’s tradition. The band is called Dirty Shirt, and their most recent record is Letchology.
My approach towards folk metal is based on the idea that we shall always try to distinguish between the aspects of originality and curiosity, which are those which impress at first, and the absolute value of the music. In this respect, the initial reaction that I had with Letchology was that of a funny, curious, eccentric album, but not particularly significant from the point of view of the “metal” content. This is mainly because the band’s style is characterized by evident ease of accessibility and also the adoption of riffs and progressions that – if we except the ethnic flavours – don’t bring so much innovation to the culture of groove music.
After a few more listenings the situation has improved and, progressively, I recognized that behind such light-hearted and irreverent facade it’s possible to appreciate the effort of these guys in making each song of the album quite different from the others, and I could discern also a number of interesting ideas that remain valid even beyond the initial appearance of easy-listening metal.
I’m collecting the best folk metal songs of the year in a special playlist, called The FOLK METAL Radar. It’s now featuring a bunch of tracks but it’s going to grow with time.
When I deal with electroacoustic music, the main challenge for me is always to navigate into the hundreds of artists that populate the successful “mood-based” playlist that you can find on Spotify or other platforms and select those few who are really worthy of our time and attention.
This new series of articles, called The ELECTROACOUSTIC Radar, has really the objective to present a carefully selected group of artists who have distinguished themselves for having published something really special and exciting.
This first episode introduces five albums that were released between the beginning of 2019 and the middle of March. From a geographical point of view, we have one composer from Ireland (Gareth Quinn Redmond), one from Canada (Nathan Shubert), one from France (Watine), and two from the U.S.A. (Aukai and Philip G Anderson).
Enjoy these albums and don’t forget to visit the blog periodically for new updates.
“Céim• eanna”, by Gareth Quinn Redmond
There are albums and songs that do not offer pleasant melodies or intriguing and articulate harmonies to hear, but which still manage to capture the attention of the listener for some other special feature. The recent record released by Gareth Quinn Redmond, called Céim • eanna, looks to me as one of these kind of albums. The five tracks of the LP are all characterized by extreme minimalism: the songs are mostly built from a central core of a few notes, usually played on a prepared piano, which is repeated without interruptions from the beginning to the end of each piece, until they become transcendental, almost mystical. Alongside these repeated sequences of notes, we have other environmental sounds or delicate effects that complete the atmosphere.
The result is music that is at the same time hypnotic and extremely relaxing. The Irish composer calls his style as “Environmental Music”, explaining that his goal is “to help the listeners engage with their surrounding environment, allowing them to recognise the multitude of individual pulses that comprise the world. Fundamental to the concept of Environmental Music is that instead of offering a form of escapism, this music is designed to create an intimate bond between the listener and his everyday life“. I don’t know how far this goal is attainable in our daily routines, in my case it has succeeded only partially. What’s certain, however, is that Céim • eanna is a collection of very particular songs, different from what we usually listen to, and definitely worthy of our attention. Ideally without too many expectations.
“Wilderness”, by Philip G Anderson
Wilderness, by American multi-instrumentalist Philip G Anderson, is one of those albums that create beautiful and poignant atmospheres that you can listen as a background during your daily routines or while taking some rest after a busy day. Once you launch the LP on your stereo, you will start enjoying dreamy soundscapes enriched by delicate notes played by piano, violin and cello.
There is no real difference among the various tracks of the LP and therefore you will basically enjoy a placid and nice sequence of ambient-like pieces filled with soft drones and elegant touches of acoustic instruments. The mood is generally serene, with the exception of a few moments where the atmospheres become a little darker and melancholic. That’s not the kind of LP that require a depth of analysis or particular concentration, it’s rather an enjoyable half an hour of nice and fairly accessible contemplative music.
“Reminiscence” by Aukai
Aukai is the acoustic ambient project founded by American composer and instrumentalist Markus Sieber. Aukai’s new LP is called Reminiscence, and it’s one of these albums that may have the effect capturing your attention and making you feel completely absorbed by the music.
In the short duration of 24 minutes, Aukai’s new LP offers a remarkable collection of cinematic and atmospheric moments. The tones are generally melancholic and there is a sense of persistent sadness that really reproduces the idea of distant memories, sudden emotions that we feel at the thought of a person, or an experience, or a special place.
I’ve published a dedicated review of the LP, you can check it from here.
“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.
Shubert’s new LP 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.
There is on the blog a dedicated review of the album, you can find there additional information on this excellent record.
“Geometries Sous-Coutanées”, by Watine
I’m concluding this digest with one of the most particular records that I’ve enjoyed in the last few weeks.
Too often, when we think about electro-acoustic music, we have in mind serene and ambient-like compositions made for relaxing or contemplation. An album like Geometries Sous-Coutanées by French artist Catherine Watine clearly demonstrates the desire to go in a completely different direction. Forget to enjoy easy-listening melodies or dreamy and melancholic soundscapes: here the music has been composed through the identification of a group of sonic “fragments” which are manipulated, elaborated, and combined together in order to arouse an effective reshuffling of your own feelings and sensations.
If I can use a metaphor, it’s like when you start rummaging through an old box that you took out from the attic. There is an initial phase of confusion when you start picking up and putting on the floor all the different objects that were in the box. But soon after you start getting back all the forgotten memories that were associated with the things that are once again in front of you. I had a similar experience with this LP, with the difference that the objects here are fragments of piano melodies, sketches of electronic rhythms, other instruments like flutes and oboes that appear from time to time, lots of tape recordings, verses, choruses, spoken rhymes, and drones that fill the silence with sounds that are sometimes serene, sometimes haunting.
The artists introduced in this article are all contributing to The ELECTROACOUSTIC Radar, the playlist that collects the best electroacoustic songs released in 2019. My recommendation is to listen and follow the playlist because it’s going to grow with time, as soon as new good albums are released.
Some of the songs mentioned in this episode of the radar were also featured in THE WEIGHT WE CARRY, which is the third episode of a series of mixtapes that uses contemplative music to accompany a poem.