This is the sixth year that I’ve published an ‘Essential’ list of albums (see here for 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017(a), 2017(b), 2018), they act as something of a barometer for my music taste over that period.
For me musical appreciation never stays still, and I am always looking out for something different. This year’s list marks something of a departure because it it the first one that has been compiled since I moved away from my ‘Psych Insight Music’ website towards something intended it be more eclectic and wide-ranging… in other words something that enables me to reflect what I’m listening to more accurately.
I hope that this list will provide you with an opportunity to explore some music that is new to you, as well as perhaps remind you of albums that you may have forgotten from earlier in the year (and I’ve now added ten more here to make it up to fifty).
As always, in no particular order!
Atmospheric Hangover by Wasted Cathedral (Cardinal Fuzz)
This album is the sonic equivalent of taking a load of uppers, and then tempering the comedown with just the right number of relaxants. The result is forty minutes of high quality life from the opening bars of disco heaven to the closing moments of zoned out paradise. In between you’re not so much taken on a journey as cajoled into a series of soundscapes each of which seem to help you to go with your own flow… and that for me is a total result.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review of the Album here
Wraith by Teeth of the Sea (Rocket Recordings)
It is an album of depth and mystery that I am sure will shape shift to my current circumstances and challenge me afresh. Like most of TOTS work it feels like an album that is out of time and, as such, will stand the test.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review of the Album here
Chernobyl Soundtrack by Hildur Guðnadóttir (Deutsche Grammaphon)
There is a altogether suitable seriousness and gravity to this soundtrack. Like the series it is an experience from start to finish. As a piece of music it would be wrong to classify it as entertainment, but it does feel important. Moreover the way that Guðnadóttir has put it together is something quite remarkable, and perhaps unique. This is an album that somehow captures something very fundamental… an album that has resonance on many levels… and, as I said at the beginning, to listen to it is somehow to experience one’s surroundings more forensically in a way that is difficult to describe. Together with the miniseries, it has made what I think will be a lasting impression on me.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review of the Album here
Trust in the Life-force of Deep Mystery by Comet is Coming (Impulse!)
…an album that is as much for our times as any other, but in the context of where were are now does feel right on point offering us hope that out of what looks like a disaster could emerge a brave new world… We only have to let go of the old one first, just trust in the lifeforce of the deep mystery.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review of the Album here
Heaven in the Dark Earth by Markers (God Unknown)
It reminds me of my favourite book when I was at primary school, ‘The Cave of Cornelius’ by Paul Capon, in which a group of children go exploring in a cave and find a whole lost civilisation within it… and strangely (I’ve subsequently realised) the title of this album is not a million miles from that idea. For me, then, this is an album that you can sit with and construct those imaginary worlds… to delve into the caves of your minds… really just escaping into your own reality, and that is a really appealing idea these days!Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Himmelsblå by Råå (Malmo Inre)
I am generally not a big fan of cover versions, and even less when they are collected together on one release. These four tracks, however, work just beautifully. They are all ones that I have at best not heard for a while and so had to go back to the source to remind myself. When I did I found that on each occasion Råå had done a loving and intricate job of working their own influence on the music. Seriously I could listen to these four tracks all day for a week… if only there were time.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here
You Can’t Steal My Joy by Ezra Collective (Enter The Jungle)
Having now seen Ezra Collective live I can see how apt the title of this debut album is. Bringing together a number of electric genre the band have created a vibe that has at its core the desire to have fun through music, linked with a steely defiance in the face of a society which which seems at best fraught. For me one of the most exciting and relevant bands out there.
New York United by New York United (feat. Daniel Carter, Tobias Wilner, Djibril Toure, Federico Ughi) (577)
As soon as I heard this record I knew that it would be on this list come the end of the year. An absolutely searing collaboration between these four artists… a magnificent blend of jazz, ambient, electro and trance to form a unique whole that is still getting better after many multiple listens.
More Arriving by Sarathy Korwar (Leaf)
When I first heard this album I was transported back to early listens of Nitin Sawhney’s Beyond Skin but perhaps I was falling into the trap that Korwar identifies with this album. Korwar’s aim is to underline the diversity of cultures and people from the Indian sub-continent through humour, directness, poignancy, despair and chilling narrative. It is an album that demands that you take up the challenges that Korwar throws down with his music. If you do pick them up you will be rewarded with an album for the ages.
För Meditation by Centrum (Rocket Recordings)
And as I now sit here is silence… a silence that seems more profound for what has gone on before. I am left in a different place from where I started. The sort of place where you should be after a ritual… more aware of yourself and the true nature of things… a ritual that was facilitated rather than directed… a moment of transportation somewhere else. That is what ‘För Meditation’ is, and that is what ‘För Meditation’ does. It is an album of wonderful music… but it is also much more than that.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Levitation Loom Four by Atomic Simao (Adamsonia)
…this is a great set that puts a massive smile on my face and makes me want to party… for some time at least the heavy doom-monger in me is cast to one side. In these current times that can only be a good thing.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Beyond the Blue Sky by Monarch (El Paraiso)
With ‘Beyond The Blue Sky’ Monarch have taken their sound and shifted up a few gears, but in a way that in no way devalues their earlier release. Indeed, having listen to the two records back to back it feels like there is a real complimentary progression here. For me there is a definite move from prog to rock here… while both float on the heady eddies of psychedelia in a way that takes you away in a rather wonderful fashion.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
The Undivided Five by A Winged Victory for the Sullen (Ninja Tune)
The ‘five’ of the title is the all-female group that Swedish abstract artist Hilma af Klint belonged to. The result is an album of glacial beauty and panoramic scope that allows you to stretch you mind over vast hectares of nothingness… the space within it feeling liberating rather than overawing.
Abstractions of Realities Past and Incredible Feathers by Binker Golding (Gearbox)
Compared with his work with Moses Boyd, this is a more straight up jazz album… and none the worst for it. With the help of some of the leading lights from the emerging and burgeoning London jazz scene this set kinda just tells it like it is… hugely affirming and evidence that the new generation can hold a candle to those who have gone before.
Sonkei by Rōnin Arkestra (Albert’s Favourites)
Having bought Rōnin Arkestra’s first meeting EP on a whim on a visit to Berlin earlier this year I was on the look out for this debut LP. It’s arrival has been a matter of great joy to me. A project initiated by composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Mark de Clive-Lowe aimed at bringing some of the finest Japanese jazz and electronic musicians together , this is a joyous and multi-faceted album that I am sure I will be coming back to time and again… finding new details and nuances.
The Free Territory by Dead Sea Apes (Cardinal Fuzz/ Feeding Tube)
This is a serious (double) album for serious times. It is a set which psychologically leads and reflects the era in which we live as existentially played out. It is also an album which, I imagine, will surface different feelings and different reactions at different times… it represents the pool of out own reality into which we can peer to see both our own reflection and the depth of our own situations.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Scattered Memories by Saba Alizadeh (Karlrecords)
This is the debut album of Iranian composer and spike fiddle player Saba Alizadeh, one which he uses field recordings, electronics and traditional instruments to create dark and emotional soundscapes designed to reflect his home city of Tehran. This is a set of spectral beauty with sinister undertones… the drones often cut through with biting musicianship. Beautiful and challenging.
Driftglass by Seed Ensemble (Jazz Re:Freshed)
This may me the first Mercury award nominee to make it onto this website. Over the last few years the token jazz choice has been one to follow, and this is no exception. It is a (double) album of considerable variety, and one that has taken me into areas of music that I did not think I’d like a few years ago… that alone is recommendation enough as far as I’m concerned. This is only the case because it is so well conceived and executed… and put together with real soul.
Memory Streams by Portico Quartet (Gondwana)
I had lost touch with the Portico Quartet of late. This was not a good thing to do. In the interim they have put out a series of albums that always bring something different to their sonic table. Far from settle back into a comfortable cycle of releases they seem to be constantly pushing the boundaries and finding new ways to express themselves. So this is not a return to form, rather a return to my consciousness… I’m going to have fun catching up on what I missed.
Positive Disintegration by Diät (Blackest Ever Black)
Frankly I thought I was done with ‘post punk’… there’s still a lost of it about but, Killing Joke apart, there does not seem to be a lot of it about that spoke to me anymore. That it why this Diät album came as a bolt from the blue. You could argue that all the usual attributes are there but there is a freshness to this album which contrasts with a lot of the staleness that many copycat acts bring to the table. So thanks to this Berlin-based Germany/ Australian combo for resurrecting my interest.
Black Bombaim with Jonathan Saldanha, Luis Fernandes, Pedro Augusto (Lovers & Lollypops/ Cardinal Fuzz)
All in all this is an amazing album of collaborations that I am sure has taken the participants outside of their respective comfort zones to produce a set that in innovative and explorative. You really will need to hear it all to fully appreciate its strength and breadth because it is outside those zones of familiarity where true expression can flourish… and flourish it certainly does here.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
8 by Ill Considered
It’s been another impressive year from Ill Considered with three new albums. I covered ‘5’ & ‘6’ earlier in the year, but I think on balance ‘8’ just edges it for me with its darker tone, definitely a band that seem to be developing with every release. Top notch contemporary free jazz.
Agile Experiments Athens by Dave Da Rose
For me this is a lot of what music should be for the listener… the relationship with that music at that time. Yes we can wonder about influences and what those musicians have put out before, but that instant is the most important. For me though this is only achievable if the musicians are also feeling that too… and this is the essence of the Agile Experiments project for me. Wherever and whenever you step into that sonic stream there is no other moment like it. It seems to me that all those involved are respectful of the process, and this in turn allows the listener to develop a very special relationship with this music.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here
Lowfold Works Trilogy by Craven Faults
All in all these releases, and the first one came out in 2017, have a certain perfection to them if you want something that is full of musical history… and you can call off at some key places along the way… in a way that feels like your musical history. This sort of ambience is not easy to achieve which underlines just how deceptively good this 100 minutes is… whether you are on a commute, or on a pilgrimage… and excursion or an odyssey… this music will go there with you and let you arrive at your destination rather wishing that you were still on the way.Full Fragmented Flâneur Album Review here.
Crush by Floating Points (Ninja Tune)
Getting to the end of this album feels like an achievement… I do not mean this in a negative way, it is just that it is such a journey, and one that the more I listen to it the more it seems to reflect the complex matrix of variety and change with marks our lives as we move into the third decade of the twenty-first century… it’s an album that, for me, shows how we feel the threat of being left behind… but also how we find gnammas of meaning within the chaos… and how these can sooth our anxieties and help us to survive.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Hard Rain/ Think Twice by Tenderlonious (22a)
Not an album as such, but two EP which together show an artist that is arguably moving away from his jazz roots and exploring any number of new fusions with his music. In some ways these feel like transitional records, although they are in themselves well worth time with your ears… really looking forward to hearing what comes next.
Collective Elephant by Swimming in Bengal (Lather)
So while the music is nigh on impossible to pigeonhole ( if you need to know there are elements of jazz, Indian ragas and African rhythms all blended and repeated into a earthy/ organic whole), it is far from impossible to appreciate because of its unique and accessible experimentalism. Just brilliant!Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Djinn by Djinn (Rocket Recordings)
…this is not just a jazz album, with many tones and shades taking is on exactly the sort of journey that I envisaged when I was thinking about how I wanted this website to develop. This is an album that, for me, is very much about the journey. This is an album that is very much in the image of its name ‘DJINN’, which mysterious spiritual beings found in pre-Islamic Arabic culture, neither angel nor demon; yet exhibiting qualities of both.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Oneness by Matthew Halsall (Gondwana)
An absolutely stunning triple album of fragile and spiritual jazz music, first recorded in 2008 but only now getting a release. Why Halsall has waited until now I don’t know because these are top notch tracks which, apparently, mark some of the recording he made with a new band made up of hand-picked musicians from across the North of England. This is a absolutely beautiful set of meditations on the nature of the human condition which in and of themselves feel timeless.
Threshold 発端 by Dhidalah (Guruguru Brain)
‘Threshold 発端’, the debut album from Japanese band Dhidalah, is fucking heavy… and it is fucking loud! And if you think it’s like that at the start, just wait until you’ve had 35 minutes of it… seriously if I hadn’t had been writing this in bed I would have had to retire here with a fit of the vapours, my head and its contents pummelled by its relentless pace and energy… it is also a set that has a number of ‘fuck me’ moments… highlighting that this is not just sturm und drang but brilliantly arranged as well.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Me And My Students Have Reached Higher Levels by Spiritczualic Enhancement Center (Akuphone)
Me and My Students Have Reached Higher Levels presents itself as an obscure and ever-morphing spectral-jazz album. Produced by eight outernational musicians, once originating from Iran, Israel, America, Russia, Romania and Germany, this record carries a distinct centrifugal force. Suspending musical particles out of a brewish stew full of drones, bleeps and feedbacks, we hear a retro-futuristic sound which could have been Big Fun back in 1974. It makes us envision the electric dreams of an artificial intelligence modeled after Lee “Scratch” Perry. Given the task to create a dubby fusion requiem for Bela Lugosi’s Death, it seems Perry’s AI has been applied to a jukebox full of CAN’s and Sun Ra’s 7-inches.Akuphone Bandcamp page.
After Its Own Death/ Walking In A Spiral Towards The House by Nivhek (Yellow Electric/ W.25th)
Nivhek is a ‘side-project’ of Grouper’s Liz Harris. The album consists of two long compositions which are in many ways quite ambient in feel with some stunningly meditative choral moments interspersed with more menacing and otherworldly. Overall, though, you are left with the the feeling of hearing otherworldly and etherial music that is wonderfully and thoughtfully presented.
Drug Rings of Saturn by Oulu Space Collective (Adansonia)
While listening to this my mind came round to thinking about the ‘slow movement’… the idea that we can appreciate things more when we slow them right down… that flavours come out much better in slow cooking… that travelling at 4mph on a canal boat is far more relaxing than at motorway pace… that walking helps us appreciate the world around us more.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Triumvirate by Carter Tutti Void (Conspiracy International)
This is a tremendous album which feels like a further step in the development of these three musicians. It is a set which you could be forgiven for thinking is far more specifically dance-oriented, and yet there is a dark intense side to this that comes much more to the fore in the second half of the set. Overall, then, this is one of the best things I have heard this year, an album that deserves to cross-over into other areas of music… it has certainly broadened my sonic palette.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Paisiel by Paisiel (Rocket Recordings)
This is the sort of album that sets the way forward for me, because it does not try to fit into any particular conventions… nor does it seek to jump on any bandwagons. There is a certain freedom to Paisiel’s music which tells you just to take it at face value… after which you are free to explore it unfettered… wander through and develop your own narratives and ideas… engage with it and enjoy it… that’s not a new concept but it’s one that we perhaps should remind ourselves of every now and again.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Fyah by Theon Cross (Gearbox)
One of the high points from a series of excellent jazz albums to emerge from the London scene this year. Cross’s tuba playing has been a feature of a number of recent releases, perhaps most noticeably with Sons of Kemet. ‘Fyah’ sees Cross exploring his range further delivering a mesmerising mix of jazz, hip hop, afrobeat, grime and reggae, electronica… An amazing debut that also features many of the other leading lights showcased on the ‘We Out Here‘ compilation.
Whites 023 (The Act of Falling From The 8th Floor) by Carl Gari & Abdullah Miniawy (Whities)
A powerfully political album which does not hold back on its subject matter which picks apart the situation in post-revolutionary Cairo. Intense to the point of oppressive the music of Berlin trio Carl Gari provides the perfect counterpoint to the Arabic lyrics of Egyptian poet and vocalist Abdullah Miniawy in this their third collaboration. To listen to it is an emotional and strangely fulfilling experience.
Odum by Sick Gazelle (War Crime)
There is an ambience to these recordings (apart from the final and much more upbeat shorter track ‘Laguna’) which feel like a sonic flotation tank, drawing in on a number of genre (jazz most notably) but it is not where the music comes from that is of principal importance here… it is where it takes you, and where that is is somewhere that feels to me to be very special and personal. It feels to me like a personal ‘safe space’, a place to go when things all get too much and I just need to decompress.Full Fragmented Flâneur Review here.
Hårt Som Ben by Kungens Män (Riot Season)
Kungens Män are no strangers to these pages, but ‘Hårt Som Ben’ (Hard As Bone) sees the Stockholm band adopt a different process as they decamped to a studio in the woods, and lived and played together for a few days. This is the first fruits of the many hours they recorded together, providing a different perspective on the band’s sound.
J Jazz Volume 2: Deep Modern Jazz from Japan 1969 – 1983 (Barely Breaking Even)
The Japanese Jazz scene is one that is deep and rich, although perhaps not as well-known as others. This is the second Volume of ‘nuggets’ unearthed by compilers Tony Higgins and Mike Peden which shows no let up in quality when compared with Volume 1. This is a triple LP set that will set you on a deep dive into what seems like an endless rabbit hole of excellent music.
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