Piano is Norwegian jazz musician Kjetil André Mulelid’s first solo album. Ordinarily to be found leading a trio with drummer Andreas Skår Winther and bassist Bjørn Marius Hegge, the pianist had been encouraged to make a solo piano album nearly two years before recording the two locked-down sessions in June and September of last year that yielded Piano.
The eleven pieces here were each performed on the 1919 Bösendorfer grand piano located at Halden’s Athletic Sound studio. Mulelid talks about the instrument’s imperfect sound being a direct contributor to the tone of the album, but unless you are a pianist of his calibre, it’s hard to detect. Instead, what you hear are pieces like the fragile, introspective ‘Le Petit’ or the pretty ‘Skjong’ that straddle the gulf between classical music and jazz.
The majority of the album was recorded during a heatwave. Strange, then, that in these pieces I can hear rain. Specifically, I find myself imagining being sat in an empty café – probably in Paris; when my heart aches I usually find myself transported to the Paris of my mind – staring out onto puddles forming in the road. Perhaps it’s because I hear a sort of muted, haunting lightness of touch in Mulelid’s playing, or maybe it’s just the frame of mind I’ve found myself in every time I’ve put this album on. There is undoubtedly euphoria and beauty here in the languid note formations of a piece like the tender ‘For You I’ll Do Anything’ or closing track ‘The Sun’, but I also hear a sadness, a contemplative dimension that feels oddly anguished.
Lockdown may have limited Mulelid’s options to get his band together, but in Piano he has produced a striking, transcendent album that I expect to return to endlessly.
Immy is London-born, Falmouth-based singer-songwriter Imogen Leach. ‘In The Morning’ is her debut single, showcasing a lightness of touch and a haunting vocal intonation that prompts comparison with the work of First Aid Kit. Ostensibly a frustrated paean to the transiency and impermanence of one-night stands, ‘In The Morning’ concludes with a firmness and resolution, even as Imogen delivers the song with a quietly stirring grace and subtlety. Expect great things. Released September 28 2020.
Spacelab – Kaleidomission (Wormhole World / HREA’M)
A joint release by the ever-dependable Wormhole World and HREA’M labels for Spacelab, a mysterious electronic project with absolutely no biographical backstory. Containing 36 short tracks, Kaleidomission is an exercise in plunderphonic dexterity, taking in freaky little segments of speech or birdsong culled from the ether, wonky loops of jazz drumming and ambient texture like ‘We Love Can’ and ‘Astral Dynamics’ that sound like they’re being broadcast from a broken AM transmitter in the overgrown grounds of Aleister Crowley’s house. The title of the standout skewed electronica of ‘Fucked Casio Melody’ requires no further explanation. Released October 16 2020.
Lagoss is a collaboration between Discrepant label head Gonçalo F. Cardoso and Tenerife-based electronica duo Tupperware. The 37 short tracks on Imaginary Island Music, Vol. 1 are like listening to Les Baxter or Martin Denny at a post-apocalyptic exotica club on a broken soundsystem. Swooning tropical lushness abounds here, but it’s skewed to the point of nauseating discordancy as vibraphones wobble and shimmer into dissonant sprawls and hip-hop / electro beats lurch awkwardly. If you listen closely to tracks like ‘Chipude’, you can hear the sound of waves lapping around a wrecked beach bar run by an old stoner dude in a Hawaiian shirt mixing Mai Tais for thirsty ghosts. Released October 9 2020.
For his first electronic album under his own name, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante (aka Trickfinger) delivers an energetic tribute to two vastly different things: his recently-departed feline companion Maya, present with him in the studio since RHCP’s Stadium Arcadium, and his hitherto unknown love of jungle and drum ‘n’ bass. A time machine back to the period 1991 – 1996, tracks like ‘Brand E’ and ‘Amethyblowl’ fizz with turbulent breakbeat edginess, while his instantly-recognisable awareness of melody offsets that rhythmic freneticism and intensity with stirring ambient colour. Released October 23 2020.
Volutes is the debut album by French duo Christine Ott and Mathieu Gabry. With a title referring to the spiralling patterns evident in both architecture and nature, Volutes is a breathtaking masterpiece full of gentle, emotive twists. With a palette of sounds including piano, electronics and the expressive violin of Anne Irène-Kempf, moments such as ‘Trapezian Fields’ are freighted with an unpredictable, austere, haunted quality full of intricate detail. Ott’s work with Yann Tiersen can be heard in the mesmerising Ondes Martenot-led ‘Ultraviolet’, wherein layers of the instrument’s characteristic reedy alien sounds are encircled by Irène-Kempf’s savagely heart-wrenching violin as it plunges into minor key despair. Un album d’une beauté poignante. Released October 16 2020.
Fragments is the debut album from LA’s Body/Negative, the pseudonym of nonbinary multi-instrumentalist and producer Andy Schiaffino, and follows their Epoche EP from 2019. Beginning with an instrumental cover of Elliott Smith’s ‘Figure 8’ that sounds like it’s being heard through the gauzy vestiges of sleep, Schiaffino has produced an ambient album full of unique personality and highly personal, almost diaristic reference points. Here you can just make out their classical musical roots poking through on pieces like ‘Catholic Guilt’, but they are presented like elusive memories appearing out of the haze of long-buried emotions, making the fifteen minutes of Fragments one of the most haunting and transcendent albums I’ve ever heard. Released October 23 2020.
Paradise Cinema is a trio consisting of Portico Quartet multi-instrumentalist Jack Wyllie with percussionists Khadim Mbaye and Tons Sambe. Recorded while Wylie was on location in Dakar, Senegal, his vision for the album was prompted by the ceaseless rhythms he’d hear through the night and the faded aspirations and historical grandeur of the city. The timbres on pieces like ‘Liberté’ are immediately recognisable from Wylie’s day job with Portico Quartet, all shimmering ambience and considered, absorbing electronics, but it is their fusion with the Mbaye and Sambe’s percussive backbone that focusses the attention. ‘It Will Be Summer Soon’ is a restless, urgent highlight, sounding like rush-hour traffic on a hopeful Senegalese morning. Released October 9 2020.
Espen Eriksen Trio – End Of Summer (Rune Grammofon)
Seven tracks of piano jazz from the versatile fingertips of Espen Eriksen, recorded in Oslo during lockdown after the trio of Eriksen, double bassist Lars Tormod Jenset and drummer Andreas Bye saw all of their shows cancel in quick succession. Released as the strangest of summers drew to a close and the dork Norwegian autumn commenced, pieces like ‘Transparent Darkness’ carry a ruminative, reflective quality in their melodic structures, while the Latin rhythms of the album’s title track carries a sense of quietly chilled optimism. There is also a sense of catharsis and energy in the pieces here, borne from the trio finally getting back together in the studio for a vibrant, socially-distanced session. Released September 25 2020.
Further. launched in January 2019. Its objective was to create a place where I could review things that caught my attention but which didn’t ‘fit’ Documentary Evidence, or where I didn’t get to cover that particular release for Electronic Sound.
During the first quarter of the year I reviewed 15 albums or singles, published one interview, and included a guest review written by Erasure’s Vince Clarke. It was a modest start to the blog, a testing of the water if you will. I will try harder during the second quarter.
Below is the full list of content published during the first quarter. There’s also an accompanying Spotify playlist including tracks from each record (where available on that platform), along with ‘Gallery’ by Californian electronic pop artist Dresage which completely passed me by at the time.
Norway’s Maja S. K. Ratkje has built a formidable reputation for vocal and electronic experimentation. Despite that pedigree, this is a performer who can still find room to challenge her compositional methods, and this latest release for Rune Grammfon is case in point.
Accompanying a Norwegian National Ballet realisation of Knut Hamsun’s 1890 novel Sult, to compose the score Ratkje ditched her electronics and employed a broken pump organ subjected to all sorts of Cageian preparations. The output takes the form of curious, and occasionally unsettling, drones and tones, over which Ratkje threads her distinctive voice, itself ranging from quiet murmuring to powerful rapture.
The result is a suite of nine intense pieces that have the power and breadth to utterly displace you. The urgent note clusters and noisy cycles that open a track like ‘et hvitt fyrtårn midt i et grumset menneskehav hvor vrak fløt om’ (roughly translating as ‘a white lighthouse in a muddy sea of humans where wrecks floated about’) will either quicken your pulse with restless energy or cause massive panic depending on the way you approach it. Closing track ‘Kristiania’ is perhaps the most fragile, unadorned moment here, containing a wistfulness that disguises a turbulent, volatile centre.
Sult by Maja S. K. Ratkje is released by Rune Grammofon on March 8 2019.