Anna Þorvaldsdóttir

Mixtape #53 : Best Albums of 2018

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Happy New Year everyone!

Many thanks to all of you who have read, followed, commented, shared, promoted and otherwise supported the blog during the previous year, most especially to my beloved band of Patrons. i’m starting 2019 in the usual way, with a new mixtape featuring something from each of the brilliant albums in my Best of 2018 list. Being such an eclectic list, the ‘narrative’ of this mixtape is one that unavoidably veers between quite wildly dissimilar styles and aesthetics, but to my ear that only makes it all the more interesting and fun.

40 tracks (well, technically 41: Jóhann Jóhannsson’s were short so i included two) that testify to and celebrate the range and scale of musical wonders created during 2018 – the full tracklisting is shown below, and links to buy each album can be found in the previous two days’ articles. As always, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed. Read more

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Best Albums of 2018 (Part 1)

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Right, let’s cut to the chase: forget all those other narrow, limited, parochial and partisan Best Albums lists, here’s the only list you need: my round-up of the 40 albums that have charmed, enthralled, awed and amazed me the most during 2018. In case anyone was in any doubt, it’s been a very good year.

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Mixtape #43 : International Women’s Day

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As today is International Women’s Day, for my March mixtape i’ve allowed myself to indulge in a celebration of fabulous music by women composers and musicians. Compared to most of my mixtapes, this was one of the more difficult to create, for two reasons. First, because the shortlist of music i was keen to include wasn’t remotely short, but simply enormous (137 individual tracks, lasting a little over 12 hours), and second, because deciding which of them to omit was tough in the extreme. In the end, though, i found an interesting and, i hope, imaginative way of navigating through such a bewilderingly diverse collection of music. There’s no particular structure to the mix as a whole this time, as i was simply allowing myself to be drawn spontaneously from piece to piece, sometimes smoothly, sometimes breaking things up with non sequiturs.

There’s a not quite even split between instrumental and vocal music, though both of these terms are interpreted pretty eclectically. The latter range across the spectrum of sentiments, from poignant and painful (Brika, Laura Sheeran, FKA Twigs, Galina Grigorjeva, Lori Cullen) to passionate and elated (Anna von Hausswolf, Cocteau Twins, Princess Chelsea, Sleigh Bells, Jackie Trent, Ari Mason, Vanbot, Carice van Houten, Peaches, Trio Mediaeval, Ladyhawke), both of widely varying orders of magnitude, alongside the more reflective (EmikaRóisín Murphy, Demen, Zola Jesus, Nynke Laverman, OY, ionnalee, Robyn) and downright demented (Jennifer Walshe – who else?).

As for the instrumental music, not all of it is non-vocal: the pieces by Gazelle Twin, Lauren Redhead and Annette Vande Gorne occupy an electroacoustic place in between, each utilising voices in different ways. As for the rest, perhaps the most applicable continuum is between strains of agitation and disquiet (Jocelyn Pook, Kristin Øhrn Dyrud, AGF, Copeland, Zeena Parkins, Elizabeth Anderson, Natasha Barrett, Mica Levi, Wendy Bevan, Clara Iannotta, Pauline Oliveros, Rose Dodd, Vanessa Rossetto, Chaya Czernowin, Rebecca Saunders, Arlene Sierra, Galina Ustvolskaya, Line Katcho, Milica Djordjević) and calmer, more measured music (Olga Neuwirth, Linda Catlin Smith, Anna Þordvaldsdóttir, Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Chiyoko Szlavnics, Unsuk Chin, Christina VantzouÉliane Radigue, Delia Derbyshire, Isnaj Dui, Susanne Sundfør).

Elizabeth Parker‘s radiophonic cheerfulness doesn’t qualify as either of those, but then pretty much none of the 60 wonderful pieces i’ve featured on this mix fit neatly within one particular box or label: their inventiveness is boundary-challenging, which makes them ideal for a day like today. Apropos: i’ve ended the mix with a track by Frida Sundemo that beautifully captures a sense of optimism, which i think is also ideal for this particular day; the song’s theme is love, yet its emphasis on ‘flashbacks and futures’ seems an apt phrase for the confident, forward-looking attitude exhibited by all of this music, and which this mixtape celebrates.

The mixtape can be downloaded and streamed below; here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain each of the albums: Read more

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New (Nordic) releases: Vilde&Inga, Nordic Affect, Trio Aristos, Iceland Symphony Orchestra

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There’s been a number of very interesting new releases recently featuring composers and performers from the Nordic countries. At the most unconventional end of the spectrum are violinist Vilde Sandve Alnæs and double bassist Inga Margrete Aas, a Norwegian duo who perform free-improvised music together as Vilde&Inga. Their new album Silfr, released last month on the experimental Sofa label, features ten pieces that demonstrate the fascinating way the duo utilises their instruments to explore a single idea. This in itself is quite refreshing. So much contemporary music seeks to cram shedloads of invention into even relatively short works that to hear such a single-minded approach as that on Silfr is somewhat novel, even courageous. The most extreme pieces are so unwavering as to seem almost behaviourally solipsistic. ‘Røykkvarts’ (“smoky quartz”) comprises an essentially unpitched texture of assorted scratchings and scrapings – so anonymous it’s hard to tell it’s being executed on string instruments at all – with occasional pizzicato pitches allowed to resonate. Though ostensibly more rapid, ‘Sprø Glimmer’ (“crazy glimmer”) is similar, placing high, unstoppable, glistening arpeggiations against an only slightly less intense tremolando, riddled with overtones, while ‘Aurum’ is located in weak, bleak territory, the instruments barely able to speak to the point that the background ambience becomes a distinct presence in its own right. The title piece is the most immersive of these, setting up a moto perpetuo of tremolandi and ricochets, stretching out notes at various points until the whole thing has its pitch content erased towards the end, culminating in the noise of frantic physical movements. Fantastic. Read more

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Mixtape #36 : Best Albums of 2015

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A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

In keeping with 5:4 tradition, here’s the new year Mixtape showcasing music from each of my Best Albums of 2015. Three hours that demonstrate something of the sonic wonders that materialised last year. Enjoy! — and there are links to buy each of the albums featured in the last two days’ articles.

As usual, the mixtape can either be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2015 (Part 2)

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And here, bringing 2015 to a truly glorious end, is the conclusion of my countdown of the year’s best albums.

20 | James Newton Howard – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

The Hunger Games film series has always been more about people and relationships than mere action, and James Newton Howard has consistently mirrored that in his scores. For the final film in the story, Howard gets archetypal, his score working as well as it does by juxtaposing crushingly imposing climaxes, reinforced by massive bass underpinning, with delicate folk music elements that (echoing the film) powerfully intimate the fragility of each and every one of the lives lost or threatened. Soaringly beautiful, solemn, spine-chilling, epic: a fitting accompaniment for the finale of one of cinema’s more emotionally involving franchises of recent years. [Amazon]

19 | Line Katcho – Pulsions

Québécoise composer Line Katcho speaks of using sound in her work “as kinetic matter, representing movement, forces and gestures”, and that’s abundantly clear throughout the five pieces on Pulsions. Their acousmatic nature is characterised by sounds that often fall just beyond one’s reach of recognition, Katcho whipping and spinning these sounds such that they become like gusts of wind manifested as solid objects. These are in turn sliced and fragmented into huge swirling clouds of sharp-edged matter, penetrating a variety of pitched materials, including deep bass drones and undulating sheets of consonance. Captivating and magical. [Kohlenstoff]

18 | Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness

It’s three years since Holter’s superb second album Ekstasis (one of my Best Albums of 2012), an album that drew liberally on musical manners from an earlier time, which is also a defining feature of Have You In My Wilderness. One detects backward glances to the lyrical mindset of a figure like Bacharach, particularly in album opener ‘Feel You’ (which could almost be a 21st century render of a number from the ’60s), as well as permeating the jaunty melody of ‘Silhouette’ (until the wonderful point where it structurally breaks apart, unleashing a host of strings) and the lush accompaniment surrounding Holter in ‘Night Song’. But discrete points of influence are numerous and treated extremely fluidly, jazz and improv jostling with ballad and baroque pop elements. An air of wonder pervades throughout, as present in the palpable sense of joy that arises from Holter’s unexpected arrangements as it is in her lyrics. [Amazon]

17 | Anna Þorvaldsdóttir – In the Light of Air

“The latest CD from Icelandic composer Anna Þorvaldsdóttir, In the Light of Air (out on Sono Luminus), develops further her distinctly elemental approach to music. Here, we’re immediately plunged into a primitive, even primeval place, filled with sounds at once inchoate yet at the same time stylised, producing a kind of heightened, ritualistic tone. Things move, yet for the longest time everything seems essentially static, held in check by its own oppressive weight; but, heralded by twangs on deep piano strings, Þorvaldsdóttir conjures up an atmosphere like folk music waking up, underpinned by some unstable drones and enriched by a movement away from gesture towards melody. […] In the Light of Air‘s conclusion bears similarities to its opening, yet is quite transformed, still decidedly weird but fundamentally more stable. Once again, with characteristic economy of means, Þorvaldsdóttir has created a stunningly immersive soundworld, the music of which conveys perceptible threads of narrative, yet which remains resolutely strange. This is perhaps her most primordial music to date, and it’s extremely impressive…” (reviewed in October) [Presto Classical]

16 | Man Without Country – Maximum Entropy

Surely contemporary pop’s most forward-looking and exhilarating synthpop duo, Man Without Country have somehow managed here to top their sublime 2012 debut, Foe. Sensitivity has always been pivotal to their music, a potent human presence balancing out the electronics, along with a leaning (it would be overdoing it to call it more than that) toward hints of the soundworld of their ’80s predecessors. Tracks like ‘Laws of Motion’, a delicious duet with White Sea’s Morgan Kibby, and ‘Virga’ demonstrate how subtle is their handling in this respect; one feels distant memories being triggered yet everything is fresh and new, making for a complex aural result. Ryan James’ vocals are as breathily ambiguous as ever, pushing the lyrics into a middleground of expressive potential, and the duo don’t seem to be anywhere near to using up their gift for lyrical ingenuity. [Amazon]

15 | C Duncan – Architect

You really don’t see music like this coming. Christopher Duncan’s approach to songwriting taps into a musical equivalent of summer holiday polaroids from the 1970s. Far from sounding merely like a retro throwback, his songs are homages to a kind of folk simplicity, inhabiting a dreamlike world of technicolor cheerfulness and harmony. One of the things that’s so remarkable about Duncan’s music is how it never feels remotely twee (despite how i’ve just described it), and also—considering how its composer wasn’t even born until 1989—how authentically it speaks. There’s a decidedly wistful punch being packed here, Duncan’s captivating voice emerging like a pristine artefact from the past that you’d thought was lost many, many years ago. Gorgeous. [FatCat Records] Read more

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New releases: Gottfried Huppertz, Elliott Sharp, Anna Þorvaldsdóttir, Coppice

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i want to flag up a few more new releases that have recently been tickling my jukeboxical fancy. To begin with, music that’s not remotely contemporary, but which in its own way marks an important contribution to the development of a particular musical strand that began early in the 20th century. Gottfried Huppertz was the composer for two of Fritz Lang’s most impressive films; his 1927 score for Metropolis can be heard as a progenitor of the style and approach that is at the heart of composers like John Williams. But it’s his score for Lang’s massive 4½-hour two-part epic Die Nibelungen, composed three years earlier, that can be heard to contain the quintessence of the movie soundtrack in a startlingly nascent form. In contrast to Metropolis, where mechanistic machinations dominate its narrative, Die Nibelungen is a score rooted deeply in lyrical melodic action. Huppertz’s musical language is sumptuous, echoing the shifting harmonic sensibilities of Richard Strauss, but above all strikingly redolent of the impassioned melodies (and instrumentation) of Scriabin’s symphonies. His approach is essentially leitmotivic, establishing a variety of principal ideas that are continually repositioned and recast in different lights and flavours in response to the events on-screen.
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