Steve Gunn: Live At The Night Light (digital release, Three Lobed Recording, June 2011)

I first came across Steve Gunn earlier this year by way of a couple of collaborations (which I may write about sometime later, or I may not). I was intrigued enough to investigate his previous work. After extensive research, I can reveal that by far my favourite recording of his is this 2011 digital-only live album. I guess you could describe this as psychedelic folk with influences from blues, classical guitar, and notably Indian sitar music. The dense, cyclic, swirling acoustic guitar picking is hypnotic and wonderful. Vocals are scarce, and his voice is frankly not fantastic, although it fits the music quite well. I’m ambivalent about what I’ve heard of his studio albums, mostly because I find his electric guitar solos irksomely self-indulgent. But here the playing is virtuoso yet understated and utterly thrilling.

I bought this on Google Play.

Goldmund: All Will Prosper (CD, Western Vinyl, November 2011)

I’m a huge fan of Goldmund’s delicate and intimate piano compositions, but I was blown away by this, Keith Kenniff’s take on 14 songs from the American Civil War. Combining his trademark close-mic piano playing with an unfussy acoustic guitar picking, he makes these very much his own while bringing out the best of the originals. In their standard renditions, I find Amazing Grace off-puttingly melodramatic and The Yellow Rose Of Texas irksomely jaunty: here, the former has is honestly and affectingly uplifting, while the latter is really quite sweet. Better still are the heart-wrenching Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier and the quietly catchy Who’ll Save The Left… it’s hard to pick out favourites here, and I’m running out of adjectives. Suffice it to say that you’d have to be a much bigger cynic than I am to come away from this without a little bit of a lump in your throat.

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

Peter Broderick: Music For Confluence (CD, Erased Tapes, November 2011)

Peter Broderick’s talent in a wide range of styles is hugely impressive, but it makes it hard for me to get a handle on his œuvre. What’s he going to come out with next? Well, I think I’d place Music For Confluence somewhere on an axis between the gorgeous orchestral sweep of Float and the rich Americana of Home. The strings range from the folksy to the classical, the piano has a jangly tone but a deftness of touch which almost sounds like a concert pianist has been hired to play in the bar of an old cowboy movie. As with all his previous work, it has an engaging intimacy. He’s still never equalled his debut, in my book, but this is a fine piece of work.

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

Jacaszek: Glimmer (CD, Ghostly International, December 2011)

Micheł Jacaszek is a Polish composer and producer. This record features harpsichord, bass and soprano clarinet, acoustic guitar, various metallophones, and a great deal of static, washing over and occasionally threatening to drown the delicate chamber pieces. The result hovers somewhere between minimalist early music and modern ambient, which I find surprisingly effective.

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

Byetone: Symeta (CD, Raster-Noton, October 2011)

This came out at the high-point of what I am, rather facilely, going to refer to as Raster-Noton’s clicks’n’bass period, released in the same month as Alva Noto’s univrs. Following in the pattern of 2010’s Death Of A Typographer, Byetone continues to represent the poppier side of the label, as far as it goes, with some of the catchiest machine-tooled glitch rhythms going. Or perhaps clubbier would be a more accurate term — I could see the awesomely mashed snarling of, say, Helix destroying the right kind of dance floor (possibly literally). Add in some truly monstrous low-end and the result is filthy and fantastic. (Incidentally, album closer Golden Elegy is a rare RN vocal track — but, this being RN, the vocals in question are a rather stern-sounding German guy reciting poetry. My German is close to non-existent, but I’m pretty sure I caught the phrase “kapitalistischer schweingeld”, which should give you  flavour.)

I bought this from Amazon, because I couldn’t find it anywhere else convenient, sorry.

Leyland Kirby: Eager To Tear Apart The Stars (CD, History Always Favours The Winners, September 2011)

The other day, I was listening to Raudio’s stream of Leif Inge’s 9 Beet Stretch, which slows the glorious Ninth of Ludwig van down to fill 24 hours. (I assume this must have been inspired on some level by Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho?) In places, this is what Leyland Kirby’s latest reminds me of: an unmistakable classical sound, but stretched out into an ambient drone, what used to be vibrato now a glacial ebb and flow which takes the place of melody, so I find myself getting obsessed with the minute shifts of tone and timbre as strings bend and harmonics beat. Elsewhere, there is distortion, and reverb, and even — gasp! — actual melodies played at the right speed, melodies whose tinny and echoey appearance somehow makes them seem more intimate. For me, this doesn’t (yet?) have quite the same classic status as his epic Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was… but it comes pretty close, and that’ll do for now.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Alva Noto: univrs (CD, Raster-Noton, October 2011)

Uh-oh, the king of glitch has got the bass bug. This is ostensibly a follow up to 2008’s unitxt. I think it’s fair to say that this is an altogether dirtier affair. The ultra-precision clicks, blips, and edits are all present and correct, but there’s something grindingly industrial running underneath everything here. The tone is quite varied, ranging from the sinisterly atmospheric to the almost catchy (well, if you’re in the mood to let yourself be caught). Maybe he’s picked up a couple of tricks from RN contributors like Senking or from his collaborations with Ryoji Ikeda… but nobody is like Carsten Nicolai when it comes to constructing a sound which is perfectly mechanical and yet has such a visceral human connection.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Sanso-Xtro: Fountain Fountain Joyous Mountain (CD, Digitalis, April 2011)

Melissa Agate pairs gentle, woozy drones with delicate melodies on a range of tinkling chimes, slow-mo accordians, folky guitars, and the like. The effect is a very sweet kind of psychedelia. Of course, too much sweetness gets cloying, and I do find her occasional vocals tend to tip things over the edge into tweeness. But for most of the album she gets it right, and at times she performs a very fragile kind of magic.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: Summvs (CD, Raster-Noton, May 2011)

It’s no exaggeration to say that my first hearing of this duo’s 2005 album Insen, and their concert at the Barbican, were transformative experiences for me. I’ve steered clear of their two subsequent releases, for fear that they would be disappointing (while developing a considerable awe of Carsten Nicolai’s other work, and Raster-Noton in general). But this time, I felt ready.

Within the first few seconds, something new is obvious: there is a wonkiness absent from the earlier work… everything is still very precise, but now sometimes it’s very precisely slurred. Sakamoto’s piano is as achingly perfect as every, its minimalism leaving you craving more. Nicolai has dialled down the glitches which dominated his contributions before, and instead has developed a knack for a subliminal throbbing tunefulness which counterpoints the delicate piano trills. The effect is awesome. My highlight is the eleven-minute Naono, in particular what we might call the second movement: a bassy hum plays a snippet of melody which is constantly resolving itself, a sequence which wouldn’t be out of place in the closing bars of a romantic symphony; this sense of coming home is challenged by persistently questioning piano flourishes, and punctuated by occasional Morse code blips… the timing is perfect, and the overall effect is of a combination of stasis and perpetual motion and I just don’t want it to stop.

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

Margaret Dygas: Margaret Dygas (CD, Perlon, July 2011)

I loved Dygas’s How Do You Do, and I listened to a lot of Perlon back in the day, so I was really looking forward to this record. If it’s not quite what I’d expected and possibly hoped for, it’s nevertheless a very satisfying listen. Where the debut album ranged over a number of styles, this focuses on refining a template. Each track starts with a soft and supple beat, all pads and ticks, a thing abstracted in the style of Villalobos maybe. And then just before it gets too dessicated a melody is introduced, something deep and unassumingly assured. There might be a swirling piano line, or one of her trademark spoken-word vocals, dryly narrative and floating almost detached in the back of the mix. Let’s forget about the comparisons with its predecessor, and just luxuriate in its warm ambience.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Techno / House.