Favourite Records of 2021

Our label owner Harry Towell has finalised his top 20 list of favourite albums of 2021, complete with a mix. See below a few words from Harry on his year in music, followed by the top 20, each with a link, a brief commentary and artwork. You can check out the mix Harry created by clicking the picture above, which counts down with a track from each of his favourite albums. Alternatively, there’s a player below and you can click play whilst you read on…


“2021 has been a year of forging onwards, back ‘to normal’ after the pandemic, returns to work, business as usual etc. However, it doesn’t feel completely the same, with climate change, destruction, scandal, social and political unrest all around us and the constant shadow of a pandemic that’s still very much here to stay. That’s before we even talk about Brexit, in particular the challenges it has brought to running the label. All that sounds pretty negative, but the year for me has been positive on so many fronts and all the while, the year has been soundtracked by some fantastic music the whole year through.

I think this year, I may well have explored more music than ever before, with a mixture of homeworking, commuting and leisure-time listening which covered a wide range of genres. I focused on a few scenes in particular; in the summer I went mad on Deep House music again, as I launched my Wallofhouse blog. Then I’ve been fascinated by Modern Classical music and the volume of sheer quality that is emerging from this scene. And Ambient, drone, electro acoustic styles, being the focus of Whitelabrecs, also dominated my listening.

This year my wife and I welcomed our second daughter Emily, into the family and so we’ve turned the music studio into a little bedroom for her. My physical music collection is in storage for now and so my listening has been much more digital than ever before. I know there’s a lack of a fair deal for musicians with Spotify in particular, but it has enabled me to cast the net much wider as I search for albums to indulge in. I still can’t help but feel that ‘liking’ an album on Spotify so I can scroll through some menus and stream it again on demand, is more than a little soul-less. But for the time being, it has suited our circumstances and I have committed to buying physical versions of the music I feel will stay with me forever. I.e, albums that make my best of list!

Onto my best of lists, and Bandcamp followers or my Spheruleus Mixcloud followers will have seen my historic best-of list mix shows being uploaded. This summer I added an iPod playlist of all the mixes I’ve made each year and I was bowled over by the nostalgia each one brought to me. Listening to the music literally transported me back in time, so I decided to get them all uploaded to Mixcloud, add them to a playlist and I’ll maintain this going forward. As of today, we have 12 years of listening to tons of records, whittling them down to a list, and recording a show to listen back to.


Below is my final list then – my favourite 20 albums of the year each with a few thoughts and a link where you can find out more about an album for yourself. Then there’s mix show featuring a track from each album, which I’ve made as a countdown with the help of my wife Beth who recorded the numbers a few years back. The cover artwork this year was taken on our holiday in Tenby, Wales, our first as a family of four.  We love Tenby, a family-favourite holiday destination and it was particularly beautiful on the morning I took the photo. I woke up to the sound of the sea, which was less than 100 meters away from our apartment. I looked out of the window and saw the sun rising impressively over the sea and had to take a walk along the promenade to take photos. Of course, with the sepia polaroid effect I’ve added, you can’t see the sun…


1st:
Origamibiro
Miscellany
Denovali

Towards the second half of a year it’s not unusual for me to put out a social media message, asking people to recommend albums for me to check out, as I begin to refine my end of year list. I did so this year and Brian from Stationary Travels recommended Miscellany, by Origamibiro. I’m familiar with the artist’s work from several years ago and within very little time, this moved its way to the very top of my list. And stayed there. It’s experimental, playful, good fun and full of ideas, moments of satisfying calm, moments of decaying, clanking rhythms.

https://origamibiro.bandcamp.com/album/miscellany


2nd:
Eydís Evensen
Bylur
XXIM Records

Over the last ten years, there’s been a real wealth of quality modern classical music and talented composers are springing up each year. Some countries have a knack for producing a greater percentage of these and Iceland is at the top of the list. The latest name to appear is Eydís Evensen and it’s been on heavy rotation this year, and a record that I can easily listen through from start to finish. The thing I’m finding with modern classical these days, is that there’s so much of it, that the works managing to really stand out need that added magic. Bylur is one such example; there are rich strings against which the piano is more sparse, and then more piano-led pieces. Overall, the mood really is magical and this is at its peak in the vocal track ‘Midnight Moon’.

https://eydisevensen.lnk.to/bylur


3rd:
Sebastian Plano
Save Me Not
Mercury KX

Argentinian cellist Sebastian Plano is an artist I’ve been following since enjoying his album Impetus as well as his collaboration with Ben Lukas Boysen, both of which I own on vinyl. I jumped on this record as soon as I became aware that it was out and it’s right up there with the best, this year. I can’t really call it between the top three of this chart, and this could/should be higher given that it soundtracked some dramatic walks along the high promenade of the Tenby cost, as I walked to fetch breakfast on our holiday in September. Plano may be a cellist, but I have always seen him as an all-round composer; this one’s beautiful, rich, melancholy and imaginative.


4th:
Addex
Eko
Limitation Music

In the warm summer of 2020 I made a dub techno mix and discovered how beautiful this genre of music sounded in the sun. This year I set up a blog called Wallofhouse and spent a few months scouring for House music in all its guises. Yet my best (very loosely linked) ‘House’ discovery of the year is this dub techno/ambient record by Addex. ‘Eko’ is a spacious hour and a half of blissed-out, poolside chill and I found myself reaching for this record over and over this summer. The album also sounds great when the sun is well and truly down, late at night, with its minimal techno micro beats and lush, infinitely cascading pads.

https://www.beatport.com/release/eko/3314244


5th:
Mikael Lind
Geographies
Dronarivm

In 2019 i became aware of Mikael Lind’s work through his album for Archives and I’ve since been lucky to welcome him to Whitelabrecs with his album Give Shape To Space, followed by an EP with S.hel. His album this year for Dronarivm hasn’t left my car CD player and the packaging from this top label makes Geographies an all round spectacle I’m only to glad to appreciate time and time again, on my long commutes.

https://dronarivm.bandcamp.com/album/geographies


6th:
Andrew Tuttle and Padang Food Tigers
A Cassowary Apart
Bedroom Suck

I’ve followed Padang Food Tigers for many years now, since their EP ‘Born Music’ on Under The Spire. I am less familiar of Andrew Tuttle’s work, although I was aware of him as an artist – I’d just not explored his work before now. In this record, Padang Food Tigers’ signature folk sound combines into beautifully warm electro-acoustic drones; a record that I’ve had towards the top of my list all year.

https://andrewtuttle.bandcamp.com/album/a-cassowary-apart


7th:
Gaspar Claus
Tancade
InFine

A record I returned to throughout autumn this year is Parisian cellist Gaspar Claus’ debut album Tancade. When you think of grand, stirring modern classical music, you think of the cello. Its deep, rich texture and bass tones are so satisfying and powerful. But it can also sound excellent when the limits of conventional playing are stretched. Here, Claus uses bowed strings alongside plucked and rhythmic patterns and I’m led to believe the entire compositions are made purely from the cello. This is quite incredible given the detail and fully orchestrated pieces of music on offer.

https://gasparclaus.bandcamp.com/album/tancade


8th:
Fabiano do Nascimento
Ykytu
Now-Again

LA based Brazilian Fabiano do Nascimento was a discovery I made last year and his last album Preludio made my chart, after sound-tracking walks in a sunny pandemic-stricken UK. I was eager to check out his new album ‘Ykytu’ and this one is somehow even better than last year.

https://fabianodonascimento.bandcamp.com/album/ykytu-2


9th:
Valgeir Sigurðsson
Kvika
Bedroom Community

I’ve been following Valgeir Sigurðsson’s music and Bedroom Community label for many years now and was excited to learn of his film score release KVIKA, used in the film MALÁ RÍŠA which features various musicians including violinist Daniel Pioro. The album’s title is the Icelandic word for magma, which is fitting given the eruption at Fagradalsfjall which began in March, when this record was released. This record is sprawling with a wealth of orchestral timbres, through the multiple musicians that performed in the score but there are also plenty of electronics and effects that underly the mix, which help make this a fascinating listen all the way through its 21 tracks.

https://valgeir.bandcamp.com/album/kvika


10th:
The Lifted Index
Sanctuary
Seil

Seil Records have been storming it this year and I could have had a few inclusions from their catalog this year, that didn’t quite make the list in the end, notably albums by Jogging House and Thme. But the stand-out for me and my favourite electronic ambient album is Sanctuary by The Lifted Index. I’ve been working with artist Tom Tebby this year and he recommend I check out The Lifted Index, and this one really stood out. There’s no clear concept, it’s just seriously good ambient/post rock, created with synths, guitars and pedals.

https://theliftedindex.bandcamp.com/album/sanctuary


11th:
Balmorhea
The Wind
Deutsche Grammophon

“I’ve enjoyed Balmorhea’s work for many years and ‘The Wind’ was eagerly anticipated, and did not disappoint. Contemporary classical music befitting of Deutsche Grammophon but some folk moments and guest musicians, including Clarice Jensen, give this record a variation that makes it easy for me to enjoy in one sitting. The artwork is minimal, classic and striking and a loose theme around the natural world provides food for thought as you listen.

https://www.deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/products/the-wind-balmorhea-12219


12th:
Olivia Belli
Sol Novo
XXIM

The high bar that is classical music is something I’ve already touched on and this is another example, of yet another talented composer, Mantova, Italy’s Olivia Belli. She says that dawn is her favourite time to compose and intended for this album ‘Sol Novo’ meaning new sun, to be filled with light. A further example of an artist inspired by the world around them and the result, is some exquisite modern classical music, centered around the piano, joined with gently stirring strings.

https://oliviabelli.com/sol-novohttps://silmus.bandcamp.com/album/laaksum


13th:
Schreel Van De Velde
Balts
Blickwinkel

There were some excellent guitar-driven records this year, that nodded back to post-rock from the early to mid 2000s in particular. I discovered this one by Schreel Van De Velde in the summer and whilst in reminded me of Tape with its use of guitar instrumentals, it has a sound of its own. Schreel Van De Velde is a Belgian duo combining the surnames of Lucas Schreel, who creates the melody in this project and Casper Van De Velde, who provides percussion.

https://blickwinkel.bandcamp.com/album/balts


14th:
Andrew Heath
New Eden
Disco Gecko

I’ve been in touch with Andrew now for over a year, working with him for his release for Whitelabrecs, a collaboration with Anne Chris Bakker as well as having him help with our label’s design work. We have more planned from Andrew in 2022 but also this year, he had been sending me his other releases. All are unmistakably excellent but New Eden stands out as the big one for me. I’ve listened to this over and over towards the end of 2021, a truly complete listen, urging the listener to search for a purer, more natural world; a better place. It works well as a sleep album but also, there is so much detail in the drones, electric piano and superb field recordings, that you can turn this up to a reasonable volume and allow your ears to explore.

https://andrewheath.bandcamp.com/album/new-eden


15th:
Teis Ortved
Parks At Night
Bathurst

Last year I listened to a lot of Jazz music and this year, less so. I think it may be due to listening to Jazz FM less and also, I didn’t go out searching for as much in the genre. However, I did stumble across this debut album by 17 year old Danish musician and composer, Teis Ortved. He comes from a musical family so you can expect a degree of competency in his approach to his first album. But listening to this album, I have been repeatedly bowled over at the talent oozing from the production of every beat, every synth and every sound. It’s such an accomplished first step into releasing an album that I’m excited to track Teis’ future career.

https://teisortved.bandcamp.com/album/parks-at-night


16th:
Philip G Anderson
Figment
Self Released

I have been following American composer Philip G Anderson’s career for a couple of years now and instantly jumped on his self-released album Figment, when it came out in June. His album ‘Wilderness’ was a firm favourite Modern Classical discovery last year and I’m sure it would have made my 2019 chart had I discovered it at the time. Figment does not have a clearly stated concept other than a single line talking about it being a personal reflection of struggle, growth and evolution. The album artwork shows the composer casting a downward glance, but these grand, technically brilliant, sonically fascinating compositions show that any struggle is paying off, if it relates to his musical career. His work is exceptional and I’m sure he’ll go far.

https://philipganderson.bandcamp.com/album/figment


17th:
Seaworthy and Matt Rösner
Snowmelt
12k

“Many years back during my early ‘ambient years’, when I’d first got into 12k, Seaworthy was one artist in particular that really got into a more acoustic version of ambient music. 1897 was out of this world for me back then and shortly after, Cameron Webb did a collab with Matt Rösner called ‘Two Lakes’, another exceptional piece of music on 12k. Several years on, the duo made a follow-up which I instantly took to exploring. Exotic field recordings, plaintive guitar and acoustic drones make for a truly compelling listen. And as always, beautiful artwork too from 12k.”

https://12kmusic.bandcamp.com/album/snowmelt


18th:
Oliver Patrice Weder
The Pool Project
SA Recordings

I’m a follower of Spitfire Audio, a quality company offering sample libraries for musicians and composers. I watch a lot of their videos and one of the video presenters is Oliver Patrice Weder, who unveiled the immersive Pool Project, in which an album was recorded inside an indoor swimming pool, at a beautiful location. Guests were involved in the process and Weder pulled everything together into this fantastic ambient/cinematic album, full of warmth and an airiness. Not to mention an accompanying and affordable sample pack available through Spitfire.

https://oliverpatriceweder.bandcamp.com/album/the-pool-project


19th:
Miguel Angel Tolosa
Nostalgia (Circa 1987)
LINE

Another discovery on the advice of a friend; James Armstrong dropped me a note to let me know I might want to check out this record. He knows I’m a fan of vinyl-crackle and ‘vintaged’ sound aesthetics and he was right on the money. I’ve had these snoozy, antiquated piano and orchestral loops on a lot this year – an exquisite record on Richard Chartier’s LINE imprint.

https://lineimprint.bandcamp.com/album/nostalgia-circa-1987


20th:
Prequel
Love Or (I Heard You Like Heartbreak)
Rhythm Section

“I went mad on House music again this year after setting up a new blog, Wallofhouse. Posts have been sparse in the last 6 months but during the summer, I was scouring new releases daily. What I’ve found over the years is that in the House music genre, albums are often geared towards retrospectives, or a collection of dancefloor tracks. The best albums contain a concept and here with this one by Prequel, it joins an impressive Rhythm Section catalog and already stands out. It’s a record I can listen to from start to finish; lots of deep loops, dusty samples and percussive breaks.”

https://prequel.bandcamp.com/album/love-or-i-heard-you-like-heartbreak

Favourite Records of 2019

Our label owner Harry Towell has put together a post for the Irregular Crates blog of his favourite albums of the year, complete with a mix. Read below for Harry’s summary of the year followed by the top 20, with links and a brief commentary for each record. Click the image above to listen to the mix Harry has created, which counts down with a track from each of his favourite albums. Alternatively, there’s a player below and you can click play whilst you read…


“2019 has been very much the year of Ambient and Modern Classical for me in terms of my listening habits. I didn’t have as much time to devote to scouring weird and wonderful music across all genres as I usually do and tended to stick to ‘my scene’. I’ve been very busy running Whitelabrecs and so much of my spare time from work and family life has been set aside for working on the 18 album releases we managed this year and I tended to listen to upcoming label releases over and over as I prepared to release them. So my year has very much been soundtracked by my own label but I can hardly announce a best of list of work I’ve been directly involved with!

That’s not to say however, that I didn’t discover some truly breathtaking works from other labels and artists that I admire. I was sent quite a lot of the albums I have charted for a potential review on Irregular Crates and I regret not having the time to put pen to paper and support these albums. I always knew that whatever time constraints I was under, I wanted to give something back and keep these end of lists going, as a recommendation to others to hopefully introduce some wonderful music. I’ve always done it expressly to support labels and artists at the end of the year and I know how special it makes an artist feel, when a music-loving person enjoys their work enough to listen over and over again to the point of labelling it their favourite.

It’s now been 10 years since I got into the modern ambient/home listening scene and throughout the years on my old Audio Gourmet blog and Irregular Crates, I’ve done a ‘Best of’ list every time. After I wrote this article and before I made this year’s mix, I decided to glance back at these lists and skim through some mixes… The nostalgia it brought me is indescribable to the point where I realised that as well as giving something back to music by sharing my thoughts with friends and potential listeners, I am also documenting my life in music. The thought struck me to create a best of decade post or mix, but then I wondered if that might just be too big a task! Perhaps I’ll write a post and link to each of the charts and mixes, where applicable sometime before the year’s out?

Aside from my work on the label and my own production work, I’ve of course got a daughter who is almost 15 months old but also, I started a new job recently and gave up my other two. This has given a work/life balance that I can scarcely remember ever having and it’s given more time and space for music, where I’m now feeling less pressed for time. My work is an hour long commute each way, so five days a week, two hours a day I have a chance to listen to music and I’ve found that Spotify has become a more common platform for me since and I’ve created a few playlists across various genres which I’ve been adding to. I like many musicians never planned to use the service but it struck me that I actually own nearly all of what I listen to physically or at the very least as an mp3. The way I see it, there is actually a place for streaming as a tool of convenience when on the move and it gives artists and labels a chance to effectively keep on earning for every play even after a listener has purchased something. I know not everyone listens in this way, but it’s certainly the case for me. I did a survey of Ambient music listeners earlier this year and now have over 1000 people fill it in, so I look forward to sharing the results early next year!

This year I’ve followed a very similar format to last year’s post – my top 20 albums of the year are listed below along with a few words and the relevant links to check the album out for yourself. Then there”s a one and a half hour mix show too in which I’ve used some countdown vox pops that my wife Beth recorded for me a few years back. The cover artwork this year was taken on our first family holiday in Tenby, Wales as we looked out to St. Catherine’s Island one chilly September evening with the moon sat in the distance just above the sea. The holiday also formed a relaxing bridge between two jobs as I left my previous role of five years for pastures new. A wonderful week of reflection, looking forward to the future and making family memories.


1st:
A Winged Victory For The Sullen
The Undivided Five
Ninja Tunes

This album took me by surprise a little, not that it emerged suddenly as I’d been following the social media developments of the production for this record. But instead, it was the label which surprised me – it’s fascinating to see how Ninja Tunes has evolved; a label I’d explored in my teens for Trip Hop music is still around and still relevant, now working with powerhouses of Modern Classical music. It received considerable hype and I have to say deservedly so. I’ve known people who tend to swerve hyped records doubt it…and then listen and immediately get drawn in. It’s interesting for the Spotify or digital age, who build playlists – tell me how you can listen to a single track on this album? For me, it plays as a whole unit and I’ve simply not been able to put it down once a few notes from ‘Our Lord Debussy’ start. It commands a full listen, to be heard in all its glory. I loved O’Halloran and Wiltzie’s debut but this is their masterpiece and something that’s up there with some of the best music I’ve ever heard.

https://awvfts.bandcamp.com/album/the-undivided-five


2nd:
M. Grig
Mount Carmel
12k

I’ve been in touch with Mike (M. Grig) for a while after he’d contributed a track to the sleeplaboratory1.0 compilation on my label, Whitelabrecs. He announced that he’d be releasing an album with 12k, one of my favourite labels. I was so excited to hear it and when the album came out in May, it truly set me up for the summer. The warm guitars shine in the sun on an album steeped in nostalgia. The liner notes on the release page give further insight into the childhood memories which are woven into this beautiful record which is rounded off perfectly with the evocative painted cover art.

https://12kmusic.bandcamp.com/album/mount-carmel


3rd:
Mikael Lind
Contingencies
Archives

Archives, as they do so regularly, were responsible this year for introducing me to another artist. This time, enter Mikael Lind, whose album is set to a backdrop of the deepest, darkest forest. The artwork grabbed me first and I ordered the CD which has become the most played album in my car this year. There isn’t much written in regards to a concept but the artwork and sound are striking enough for this to still feel complete. Different pianos are played, with careful detail and minutiae embedded into the composition. Every track is a winner but Ideas Fade Away blows my mind.

https://archivesdubmusic.bandcamp.com/album/contingencies


4th:
Hoshiko Yamane and Mikael Lind
Spaces In Between
Time Released Sound

This one’s only recently dropped so I’ve not had long to listen to it. But then, I didn’t need long. It’s not difficult to be bowled over by an album when it’s of this quality. This album navigates the distance between Berlin and Reykjavik, the places in which these two respective artists live. Yamane was a violinist as part of Tangerine Dream and Mikael Lind has been forging his career as a modern composer to great effect. This record is utterly incredible and I wonder whether with a bit of time and space, it might have given A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s record a run for its money in first place….

https://timereleasedsound.bandcamp.com/album/spaces-in-between


5th:
Penguin Cafe
Handfuls of Night
Erased Tapes

Quality output on Erased Tapes is expected and there was no disappointment in their release of the Penguin Cafe’s ‘Handfuls of Night’. It’s a record in which Arthur Jeffes attempted translate his experiences travelling to Antarctica, a land which of course is inhabited by the penguin, and not much else! The album uses modern classical composition inclusive of piano, viola, double bass, violin, cello and percussion to name but a few ingredients, to tell the story of endless space. There is not just the vast open white blank canvas that one might imagine, cold and stark nothingness. Instead, this record is brimming with life and wonderment somehow and, it sounds particularly magnificent on vinyl, through a decent sound system and a bit of volume!

https://penguincafe.bandcamp.com/album/handfuls-of-night


6th:
The Humble Bee and Offthesky
All Other Voices Gone, Only Yours Remains
IIKKI

How do two such revered artists from the same scene combine? Craig Tattersall’s defined a generation through his work as The Boats, his label Moteer and of course, The Humble Bee whilst Jason Corder has been refining his work as Offthesky for the same duration. In a word, the combination blends together effortlessly. Whether that was the case in the studio/in production we may never know but this album is a work of art in every sense of the word. You’re left with half a photograph, evocative track titles and a careful unfurling of fuzzy, warm ambience and electro acoustics. Not to mention, a truly special physical edition by the fine art label IIKKI.

https://iikki.bandcamp.com/album/all-other-voices-gone-only-yours-remains


7th:
Justin Wright
Music For Staying Warm
First Terrace

This record was clearly instantly impressive but I found it move further and further up my ‘chart’ as the year went on. I wonder if it could be the weather? We’ve had quite a bit of wind and rain here in the UK so the title of this one helps it feel like a comfort blanket. Justin Wright has composed a suite of modern classical music, with cello at the centre of the production given that this is his chosen instrument. It is not deep, dark cello – rather, it is warm and uplifting in a strange, melancholy way.

https://firstterracerecords.bandcamp.com/album/music-for-staying-warm


8th:
Vieo Abiungo
The Dregs
Lost Tribe Sound

William Ryan Fritch has very much become the signature artist for Lost Tribe Sound but his other moniker Vieo Abiungo deserves every attention too. This year LTS put out an album with a title which doesn’t exactly have positive connotations. However, this record is everything but – there’s far too much detail and careful attention paid to the production of this percussion and instrument laden album. Across 14 short tracks, Fritch builds an exotic tale of a far away land, perhaps one that doesn’t even exist. It will literally suck you in with tribal tunes and its subtle moments of suspense. I’ve had this one playing in my headphones everywhere from the car to the supermarket. A must listen.

https://williamryanfritch.bandcamp.com/album/the-dregs


9th:
Offthesky
Illuminate
Eilean

With Eilean Recs set to bow out this year, it was exciting to see what records they’d put out to conclude this wonderful series. I was delighted to see the return of Offthesky! Anyone who has read pretty much any of my end of year lists, will have seen this artist’s name crop up time and time again. Indeed, Jason Corder’s work is something I’ve tracked ever since I got into the Ambient side of my musical taste a decade ago. This one’s a beautiful electro-acoustic album, which leans more on the Ambient side, also featuring guest vocals, viola, violin, cello, oboe and sax. Corder manages to concoct this into a liquid mix which flows effortlessly.

https://eileanrec.bandcamp.com/album/illuminate


10th:
Skyphone
Marsh Drones
Lost Tribe Sound

Lost Tribe Sound have had a phenomenal year and an artist they provided two superb vinyl editions for was Danish duo Skyphone. I must admit, I hadn’t heard of them but as soon as I caught a glimpse of the artwork, which for me would have to be the cover artwork of the year, I was always going to listen. Then the press videos of a room full of instruments was enough to get me excited enough to want to like their work… then the vinyl arrived! A superb selection of tracks, which traverse synth, guitar, vocal lines in a post rock meets ambient style. This one isn’t bogged down dreary drone, maudlin classical or grizzly grunge – it’s actually really uplifting and one I reach for time and time again.

https://skyphone.bandcamp.com/album/marsh-drones


11th:
Marek Kamiński
Not Here
Self Released

“Marek Kamiński sent me his self-released album early on in 2019 and I subsequently ordered it on vinyl. I was drawn to the cover artwork to begin with in that it is a good reference point to consider when listening: the tree is clearly no longer there, but there is plenty of evidence that it existed and something so colossal has left its mark. The music in Not Here is a selection of modern classical piano-led melodies, riddled in static and field recordings, reminiscent perhaps of Library Tapes which is no bad thing!

https://marekkaminski.bandcamp.com/album/not-here


12th:
Silmus
Laaksum
Volkoren

I reviewed Silmus’ ‘Shelter’ back in 2014 and it was to become one of my favourite albums for that year and beyond. So I was thrilled when Gert sent me ‘Laaksum’ at the beginning of the year. I regret not being able to review this one, especially given how impressive this album is, which features the cello talent of Guy Gelem. However, it’s a record that again features in my ‘best of’ list and something I’ve listened to over and over this year. If Shelter was one for indoors, Laaksum is an album for cold, wide-open spaces. The title ‘Dancing on the Pier, Discovering the Sea’ is a wonderfully evocative title for a track which fittingly, begins from hushed, slow tones before evolving into something more alive and vibrant against the backdrop of a darkened sky.

https://silmus.bandcamp.com/album/laaksum


13th:
Kira Kira and Hermigervill
Sumarbörn
Time Released Sound

Fine art imprint Time Released Sound continues to share superb material with the world, combining lavish packaging ideas with high quality modern composition, ambient and electronic music. I was taken aback by Sumarbörn by Kira Kira and Hermigervill, which combines glacial ambient and classical music with choral vocals. Doesn’t sound much on paper but it’s difficult to describe, so I strongly recommend you click on the link and sink into this one:

https://timereleasedsound.bandcamp.com/album/sumarb-rn


14th:
anthéne
Lost Channel
Archives

I was lucky this year to work with Brad Deschamps who records as anthéne, as part of a pretty special year for him: three album releases! My pick of the bunch would be ‘Lost Channel’ on Archives, with its warm drones which swell and soar, with the saturated sounds of tired tapes. The whole thing feels like a time lapse low drone-helicopter flight across the globe, with stormy choppy shores giving way to the gaping wide ocean.

https://anthene.bandcamp.com/album/lost-channel


15th:
Sven Laux and Daniela Orvin
The Writings
Dronarivm

Another entry for Dronarivm and a record collaboration between my good friend and collaborator Sven Laux alongside Daniela Orvin. The duo met over several studio sessions and this is their output, a cinematic epic that includes icy cold dramatics, slow and brooding soundscapes, warm and charming ambience and fuzzy orchestration. Check out ‘A Moment Of Silence’ in particular and be prepared to be amazed. What’s particularly impressive here, is just how effortlessly the two styles of these artists combine.

https://dronarivm.bandcamp.com/album/the-writings


16th:
Santilli
Surface
Into The Light

I discovered this one when prowling the feed of new releases on Boomkat and was drawn to the immediacy of this melancholy sound. It was hard to believe that this one’s a debut as it feels like years of honing a craft although, perhaps it is of sorts, since multi-instrumentalist Max Santilli has worked with many acts and artists over the years. I ordered this one on vinyl and have enjoyed the spacey chords, guitar and exotic percussive sounds ever since.

https://into-the-light.bandcamp.com/album/surface


17th:
Aries Mond
Cut Off
IIKKI

“I get sent most IIKKI albums for Irregular Crates and it pains me that I can’t find the time to write more about these works on the blog, as absolutely everything is pristine quality in terms of artwork and curation. This one by Aries Mond floored me the first time I heard it and has the same effect every time – it begins with rustling, prepared-piano style sounds – gentle and unfolding. The live sounding notes blur through reversing and subtle electronic looping and sampling, a truly clever record that never fails to immerse and pull you in, so long as you give it your time.”

https://iikki.bandcamp.com/album/cut-off


18th:
Halftribe
Backwater Revisited
Dronarivm

I’ve been enjoying Ryan Bissett’s work as Halftribe for quite some time now and a jaw dropping moment occurred not long after I hit play on ‘Backwater Revisited’ from the trusty Dronarivm label. The record features synth and electro acoustic tones, drenched in reverb and a tasteful hint of chorus. Plenty of crackle and space between the lines to allow for a glistening, wintry backdrop. The artwork features an adaptation of open source imagery by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis from back in 1908 and this rustic, vintage cover fits in perfectly with the blanket-like folds of Ambience Ryan created here.

https://halftribe.bandcamp.com/album/backwater-revisited


19th:
Hampshire and Foat
Saint Lawrence
Athens of the North

I discovered Hampshire and Foat for the first time when I stumbled across their album ‘Saint Lawrence’ which came out on Edinburgh’s Athens of the North label. It was released in March and I grabbed it in the summer, in time to enjoy it in the sun which feels the best setting, particularly whilst driving or walking through the British countryside. The album itself was recorded live during a couple of sunny afternoons spent in churches on the Isle of Wight and whilst this album is truly masterful in its presentation, its recurring themes and acoustic presentation give it a beautifully intimate feel.

https://aotns.bandcamp.com/album/saint-lawrence


20th:
Leo Svirsky
River Without Banks
Unseen Worlds

“US based Russian pianist and composer Leo Svirsky first grabbed my attention via the cover artwork to his album ‘River Without Banks’ which appeared on the Unseen World label. It retains an organic feel to it despite the fact that it’ll probably be filed under Modern Classical; yes the piano pans across the stereo field from time to time, accent notes feel extended into drones and crystalline piano notes hover over one another. But, the piano is undoubtedly the focus throughout, making this one have that live feel. The sound is just magical and I recall many mornings sipping espresso in a coffee shop before work.”

https://unseenworlds.bandcamp.com/album/river-without-banks