B’lieve I’m going down…
Vile is a troubadour in the mould of Beck with a voice akin to J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr) who makes great, languid west coast rock. He used to be more intense in his War on Drugs days but time has rubbed the edges down and now he’s a consumate singer/songwriter with a flair for songs that reflect the uncertainty of modern life. The opener ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is immensely catchy but ultimately atypical of the album which has a down tempo vibe and a lot of innate charm thanks to the man himself, and for that matter the band he’s been with for some time plus three other musicians. Sound quality on CD and vinyl is good but not spectacular, not quite in Beck’s league but it’s very listenable nonetheless and suits the music down to the ground.
In 2012 Chesky Records developed Binaural+, a processing technique claimed to make binaural recordings sound spatially realistic through headphones and loudspeakers. Melissa Menago’s acoustic folk-styled live debut Little Crimes was recorded using Binaural+ in a Brooklyn church during a thunderstorm! Menago delivers a relaxed and utterly captivating 50 minutes of contemporary arrangements, underpinned by beautifully expressed lyrics that are stylised with a fun edginess and emotional vulnerability. Chesky’s reproduction of the church’s rich and spacious acoustics adds immeasurably to the imagery and delivers Menago’s gently uplifting recital in all its understated elegance.
Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile
Years ago I heard Nik Bärtsch’s music for the first time and I was hooked immediately. Up till this year I thought the best record of this Swiss composer/piano player was Ronin Live, an album he made with his electric zen funk band Ronin. But this year he produced Continuum, an even more impressive album made with his other ensemble; the acoustic group Mobile that he formed some twenty years ago. Now a quartet with Ronin regulars reed multi-instrumentalist Sha and drummer Kaspar Rast, rounded out with drummer/tuned percussionist Nicolas Stocker. For Continuum, my favourite album of 2016, Bärtsch added a string quintet that accompanies the group on three of the eight tracks. Together they create a mixture of progressive jazz and minimalism that’s both captivating and hypnotising. The ECM label is, as ever, responsible for the great sound quality.
Jan de Jeu
A Moon Shaped Pool
The sixth album in a career approaching 30 years, Radiohead are not a band to be rushed it seems. But their approach usually bears tasty fruit and that is definitely the case with Moon Shaped Pool. It strikes me as being more accessible and easy to enjoy than some of their output thanks to more in the way of real instruments, the acoustic guitar on Desert Island Disk or the electric one on the fine ‘Deck’s Dark’ are good examples. There are still plenty of electronic burblings but they form a background to the voice and instrumentation. This also sounds rather good, there’s lots of spatial and dynamic subtlety in Nigel Godrich’s mix and plenty of power in the likes of ‘Identikit’ and ‘Ful Stop’. Available on all formats it can be downloaded as a 24-bit/48kHz file which is quite a luxury.
What was said
The king of Scandinavian cool warmed up a little this year, he did this by inviting German/Afghan singer Simin Tander to add her sultry vocals to What was said and they fit like a dream. With songs in English and her native Pashto based on poetry and Persian philosophy that she weaves into entrancing patterns. Gustavsen’s piano is joined by Jarle Vespestad’s drums and the two get to work out at the end of each track to appealing effect. This is a superb sounding recording, ECMs usually are but the Rainbow Studio in Oslo with its B&W 802 monitors obviously helped push it a little further into the sublime.
It has been a year that has seen the release of a great album by one of Europe’s most emotive pianists, Tord Gustavsen’s What was said is a beautiful minimalist album with a newly formed Trio. Mop Mop, the Italo-German band released the colourful, rhythmic Afro-Caribbean themed gem, on Lunar Love on which they are joined again by the great Anthony Josef who has in turn released his own album, Caribbean Roots, a very introspective identity themed project.
However, the three albums that have seen the heaviest rotation on my system are:
On Dylan Different, Ben Sidran has re-created Dylan in a way that made the Dylan in Dylan more Dylan. A must have in the collection of any fan of the Nobel laureate.
A group of brilliant musicians answering to the names Klaus Gesing, Bjorn Meyer and Samuel Rohrer created something akin to musical magic with the deeply haunting Amiira.
But the album I listen to the most though is Ethics by the French bass player Michel Benita and his band, this 2010 release is a musical tour de force of a variety that one rarely encounters.