After moving around and out of the country rather consistently for the past decade, 2013 found me returning to where I grew-up with the intention of staying put for a while. In light of this, I’ve been rather precoocupied with ideas of “home,” identity, and, particularly, memory--how it’s very much a product of place; how powerfully it can dictate the future; how deeply affcting yet deeply flawed it is. I spent a lot of time reading authors that doggedly examine memory--Karl Ove Knausgaard, W.G. Sebald, and Javier Marías--and, fittingly, my listening was often taken up by musicians/projects that explore similar terrain.
Robbie Basho – Visions of the Country (Gnome Life / Windham Hill)
Released in 1978, Visions of the Country finds Basho at the height of his powers. His distinctive approach to voice and instrumentation makes this no mere guitar record but, rather, a beautifully odd (oddly beautiful?) sonic artifact. Every reconsideration of Basho is a worthy endeavor in my mind, and this reissue in particular is nothing short of a joyous occasion.
Harold Budd – Perhaps (Root Strata)
A memorial to James Tenney--a composer that has taken up a lot of my listening of late--Perhaps is two LPs full of stark yet supple piano. Utterly hypnotic, this stays on my turntable for days at a time.
Federico Durand – El Idioma de las Luciérnagas (Desire Path)
If we consider idioma as implying not just language but also idiom, then the title for Federico Durand’s LP is all the more fitting. Flickering fragments of music boxes, wind chimes, toy pianos, and other acoustic sounds are lovingly woven together to create peculiar, gauzy, dreamlike pieces. Idiomatic, indeed.
Chuck Johnson – Crows in the Basilica (Three Lobed)
For my money, this is the most accomplished american primitive-style record since Jack Rose’s Luck in the Valley. Deceptively straightforward on the the surface, Crows in the Basilica offers a hearty helping of finger picking nuance upon multiple listens.
Mary Lattimore – The Withdrawing Room (Desire Path)
With a harp a loop pedal, Mary Lattimore creates an aural universe that exerts an inevitable pull on the listener. Don’t be fooled by those heartbreakingly beautiful passages of plucked melody because Lattimore’s about to mangle it all beyond recognition.
Josh Mason – The Symbiont (Sunshine Ltd.)
The Symbiont finds Josh Mason working on a larger canvas, culling fragile yet devastating side-long pieces from loops of processed guitar situated on compromised magnetic tape. It’s a beguiling journey in which Mason nimbly navigates terrain marred by anxiety, ultimately arriving at a place of deeper awareness.
Sean McCann – Music for Private Ensemble (Recital)
Music for Private Ensemble is an impressive balance of classical and experimental sounds in which Sean McCann acts as composer and one-man orchestra. The most ambitious release I heard all year, I highly recommend getting ahold of the bonus CDr of Accessory Works as it contains perhaps my all-time favorite McCann piece: “Theme for Stage Direction.”
Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moon Chile (Constellation)
An exploration of personal, cultural, and collective memory, Matana Roberts draws from a wide range of genres, jazz eras, narratives, and instrumentation to construct a singular musical identity. A powerful and complex record, Mississippi Moon Chile deals directly with the haunting legacy of oppression all-the-while remaining ebullient and affirming.
Antti Tolvi – Pianoketo (Fonal)
Expressive and gestural, Pianoketo sounds of wood and earth, solitude and time passed. This is a record that offers a shifting array of aurae upon repeated listens--take a morning, afternoon, or even a whole day and let it fill up the space around you.