I always look forward to compiling lists at the end of each year, taking stock of my favourite releases. Today I asked myself: Why wait? The fact that we’ve just passed the summer solstice makes this seem a reasonable enough moment to sum up my favourite albums of the first half of the year.
The most thrilling releases I’ve heard so far this year are California collective Wild Up’s treatments of the works of misunderstood but recently re-evaluated genius composer Julius Eastman. Vol. 1: Femenine is livelier than any other version of this incredible minimalist piece I’ve heard, and Vol. 2: Joy Boy (featuring pieces never performed before) is a revelation, culminating in a version of ‘Stay On It’ more frenzied and lunatic than ever before. Not only is this a huge recommendation, the collective has pledged that another five volumes are in the works! In comparison, Spiralis Aurea by Stefano Pilia is a far more soothing experience, but wonderful all the same. Ghosted, a spiky and playful piece by one of my favourite modern artists, Oren Ambarchi, continues his run of stellar albums.
The pipe-organ-heavy, doom-metal-without-metal, Kate Bush-esque Live at Montreux Jazz Festival is gloriously sludgy yet uplifting, and puts Anna von Hausswolff high on my list of live acts to see one day. Lucrecia Dalt’s gloomy original soundtrack for The Seed (a film I haven’t seen) is varied and, while drawing on familiar horror tropes, nevertheless satisfyingly original. The new version of Phill Niblock’s Four Walls Full Of Sound by Opening Performance Orchestra is almost as arresting as the Wild Up pieces, though you have to pick the right moment to expose yourself to such a wall of sound, and the same applies to Alvin Lucier and Jordan Dykstra’s extended-drone album Out Of Our Hands. The self-titled album by mysterious collective The pale faced family on the hill, featuring Oliver Coates, is aloof, but very good and often very surprising.
Weird / electronica
Mattering and Meaning by Dan Nicholls squelches loops of piano with field recordings, producing a mush of unclassifiable sound, and provides a great background to thought. Mux by drummer Julian Sartorius is more palatable than his recent collaboration with Matthew Herbert, yet his jittery pieces sound more electronic than ‘real’, but that’s no complaint.
Indie / rock / vocal
Actually, You Can proves that Deerhoof still actually can, and ‘Plant Thief’ has become one of my favourite Deerhoof tracks. The Voltarol Years by Half Man Half Biscuit is reliably good, and made me snort with laughter. Movietone’s collected Peel Sessions reveals a band that perhaps ought to have been bigger and more loved. Optimism by Jana Horn provides the low-key beauty missing from Aldous Harding’s most recent release; listening to this album is like falling asleep against the trunk of a tree in dappled sunlight.
Compilations / reissues
V4 Visions: Of Love & Androids is another superb compilation from Numero Group, featuring ‘lost’ tracks from a UK label that between 1990 and 1994 clashed American and Jamaican sounds with some pretty astounding results. Hallow Ground presents: Epiphanies is far slower affair featuring drones and tones, though often majestic. I Had the Craziest Dream: Modern Jazz and Hard-Bop in Post War London, Vol. 1 from Death Is Not The End is an amazing collection of exactly what the title describes, and almost all tracks are infectious fun. (Volume 2 didn’t quite live up to the first, though.) My favourite compilation so far this year is Music from Saharan WhatsApp from Sahel Sounds, certainly the most eye-opening release I’ve heard for months, and foot-tappingly catchy too.