Shida Shahabi: Shifts (LP, 130701, November 2019)

I’ll admit that my first thought on hearing the opening track here, Futō, was that maybe it was overdoing the whole close-miked piano thing a wee bit, as the creak of the mechanism was so up front in the mix. But that was soon forgotten, displaced by my second and more lasting thought: this is blooming lovely.

Iranian–Swedish Shahabi’s intimate and evocative piano playing is accompanied by cello by Linnea Olsson, with a subtle touch of synth and electronics from Shahabi herself. I’d file this record under “modern classical with a touch of ambient/drone”, and while it may not stray far from the genre template, it easily stands out from the common herd for its melodies, which are unshowy but somehow worm into your subconscious in that way that makes you feel you’ve known them for years, and the superb playing. An all-to-brief 25 minutes, it is tender, with a quiet touch of sadness, but ultimately gently uplifting, this has been brightening up a cold and damp London winter enormously.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Ambient / Drone.

Maarja Nuut & Ruum: Muunduja (LP, 130701, October 2018)

On the off chance that your knowledge of the Estonian experimental music scene is as non-existent as mine, here’s an introduction: Maarja Nuut is a fiddle player and folk singer, and Ruum (aka Hendrik Kaljujarv) is an electronic musician who cut his teeth on old Soviet analogue synths. This collaboration appears to be the first major international release for either of them, and it’s a pretty damned impressive one, as well. Half the tracks are pretty intense instrumental numbers, with Nuut’s strings swirling around Ruum’s beats and keys; on the other tracks, Nuut also sings, her voice clear and compelling. There’s a genuine folky feel here, it feels not too far off the sort of thing you could imagine being belted out in the corner of a rural inn, with much lusty dancing, and the vocals are often layered as if being sung in a round. But pretty maids and spring flowers this is not: this is in the tradition that speaks of long, dark winters, and death never far away. There’s a subtly sinister edge to much of the music, and the tone of the lyrics is set by the striking opening number Hanad Kadunud which (the translation on the sleeve reveals) is about a farmhand who has lost her geese… spoiler alert, it does not end well for the geese. This album is powerful, distinctive, and thoroughly enjoyable.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.