Albums of 2021

For over a decade I have been writing an Album of The Year list for the site, highlighting my favourite 5 albums and crowning one my overall favourite.

To feel like I could give a valued opinion on the music of each year took hours of research, listening to hundreds of albums (many several times) to get to a place where I believed I could fairly select my favourites. Unfortunately, this year I have not had the time to dedicate to the selection process and therefore don’t believe that I can give a fair opinion of music from this year.

Those who read the site will know its posts have dwindled over the past few months, Having a child has greatly reduced my time, and I’ve had to make decisions about how I spend my limited available free time. As music goes, I’ve been far more interested in using that time to create, rather than write about music. In the future, the site is going to continue to reflect this, with fewer posts and a focus on my own music.

That being said, there are a few albums this year that I wanted to mention as well worth a listen, so I thought I would spend a little bit of time writing about them here. This is in no way a definitive list, but it is a reflection of my life this year.

Bicep_Isles album Art

Bicep- Isles

One of the first albums I head this year and yet its stayed with me throughout. Isles manages to contine what I love most in electronic music with its focus on sound design.

The albums instrumental focus allows for the records adaptability to different scenrios. It’s as comfortable bubbling quietly in the background of daily chores as it is being cranked up and your main focus. This works in most part because of the quality of the sound design that focuses on rich and complicated textures, both in its sampling and its sythpatches/layering.

This attention to detail continues throughout the record, creating a solid and unified album. With lots to love about the record, it should appeal to more than just the avid electronic music listener.

Although this album fits into my favourite genre, many records of its ilk have fallen to the wayside after several listens, Isles has stuck with me though throughout the entire year and become a musical higlight of it.

Cover for album Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra- Promises

If there had to be an album of the year for me it would be this. A contemplative single composition that over its 46minute play time weaves jazz, electronic and neo classical into a unified, attractive reccord.

On first listen, I wasn’t blown away with the albums subtleties. It’s more minimal approach and focus on a single theme for most of the record left me wanting. However after several listens, and within the right frame of mind, Promises revealed itself to be a masterfull piece of work for all involved.

It has become a staple in my musical diet for many months now. A retreat into something delicate and nuanced that focuses on the intricate sounds of each instrument with exquisite detail. Whether or not the piece was recorded live, it has a feeling of that.

The album builds to movement 6, where the strings swell into full force and lead to one of the most uplifting and powerful pieces of romanticism in modern music. It is worth the price of admission alone.

It is only enhanced by the slow build of the opening movements. These are far more delicate, focusing on the motif and a single other instrument (often Pharoah Sanders voice or horn), which has the exemplarary smokyness acheived from only years of musicianship.

If there was one record I would recommend anyone listen to this year it would be Promises. I guarantee it will continue to be played in my collection for many years to come.

Well that’s it for now. I hope to post again in the not to distant future with some more of my own music. Until then I hope you have a wonderfull year.

TOTW: Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra_Promises

The Latest album from Floating Points entitled Promises is a collaboration between Jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s a complete work, broken up into 9 movements on the record. It focuses around a singular motif that repeats throughout the entire album.

This blend of classical, jazz and a peppering of electronics took me several listens to get into and yet I have repeatedly returned to it over the past month to listen to the whole thing again, intrigued by its intricacies.

“Promises” seems like the kind of album that is rarely made these days. An indulgent and absorbing work of this nature rarely seems to get a budget large enough to gather a collection of talent this large, and for that risk alone it should be respected.

Yet it has much more to offer. Its distinctive sonic landscapes will be a joy for anyone who is into experimental music that focuses heavily on musicianship and sound design.

By its very nature, picking a singular “track” from the album is hard as the movements work so well as a whole. However “Movement 6” on Promises seems to be the crux of the album. It is the most instrumentally diverse and a great calling card for what the whole album is about when its firing on all cylinders. If you like the way this Movement sounds, It’s well worth listening to the whole thing:


TOTW Playlist:

Albums Of The Year 2019-Floating Points_ Crush

Floating Points- Crush

I’m going to start this review on a bit of a tangent but bare with me. Lets go back to the beginning of the 1960’s. Using electronic components to synthesize audio was very much in its infancy and at the forefront of science. The first synthesizers were only available in university research laboratories. They were created using a mix of electronic apparatus, designed for scientific research purposes, sitting side by side with custom hand built circuitry to create what would now be considered the most rudimentary of modern synthesizers.

Out of this period came two American engineers and designers who took the steps required to move this technology from research laboratory to the public.

The first of which, and probably the best known, is Bob Moog, whose aim was to get these new sounds and techniques into the hands of musicians. He started with large scale modular designs, before creating a portable alternative with only the essential features. The Mini Moog became one of the most iconic synthesisers (if not instruments) of all time and cemented the techniques and design philosophy of Bob Moog into the canon of synthesis design for years to come.

On the other side of America, in California, another visionary had some similar ideas. However Donald Buchla’s approach to synthesis and design philosophy was greatly different.

Instead of trying to appeal to musicians by creating instruments that were easy to understand in a more traditional music structure, Buchla was interested in the experimental. He forced his users to think differently; to create music outside of what had been created before, rather than emulate the past with new equipment. This approach wasn’t as widely accepted as the Moog approach but still had many loyal fans and users who pushed the boundaries of what synthesis, and even music, could do.

Over time, these two styles of synthesis (the “east cost design” of Bob Moog and the “west cost design” of Donald Buchla) have become more intertwined. Modern synthesis design is full of mixes of the two styles; especially with the event of the modular format eurorack. Now the chance of having a Buchla style “complex oscillator” in a system alongside a traditional Moog designed “Ladder Filter” is commonplace in modern modular synthesizers.

But there is still opportunity for artists to delve purely into the design philosophy and thought process of the individual designers. They can do so by buying the synthesizers their companies still make.

And that leads us to Crush by Floating Points; a man who has fully adopted the Buchla style as part of his workflow and performance. A style that has worked its way into the very core of this album.

I’ve personally dabbled with both Moog and Buchla systems in the past. My personal Eurorack has a collection of units that mix and merge the two styles, but in their purest form. I’d say the main difference in thought process between the two original styles are as follows:
East coast systems are about building and refinement. You take fairly simple sound sources and then layer and chip away at them with filters and envelopes to create your sound. However, a Buchla system for me works the opposite way, You start with everything and its all about taming the potential into something usable rather than building something usable out of nothing. This may sound like minutia but its a hugely different creative approach that will result in massively different outcome, even if you have the same aims in your head when you start.

Floating points is a master of the second approach. He manages to take a Buchla system and tame enough of the experimental nature out of it to create traditional club tracks when he wants to. This is demonstrated perfectly on the centerpieces of this album “lesAlpx” and “Bias,” which when they are in full motion are all out modern classics.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t let the more experimental elements come out on “Crush”. Many of the tracks take a more complex approach to sound design and melody than the traditional looping hooks of most dance music.

The opening track makes this abundantly clear with a string and brass arrangement that is mixed in with with rapidly flickering samples from a electronically modulated amplifier. It sounds completely fresh and takes elements of the style he used in his first album and subverts them into the more electronic nature of this one.

String and Brass instrumentation are not the only things that help reign in some of the more eccentric nature of the Buchla system. The use of samples, including the Amen Break and other synthesizers and drum machines, intermingle and provide some grounding.

The blend between the more experimental and the refined is perfectly balanced on the album and allows the listener to go on journey or exploration and still have things to latch onto when they feel a little lost.

On first listen the one place I thought the experimental nature of the album fell apart was in its production. I first heard the album through a mono Bluetooth speaker and got very little out of it. The only reason I went back to the record was because of my love for his first album “Elaenia”.

Through a pair of headphones, the album opened up to reveal what a brilliant piece of work it is. The use of stereo is expertly done. Each instrument is given space within the stereo field, and effects allow movement that disappears on a mono system.

The album is also dynamically rich and organic for an electronic album. You mix that with the stereo design and it creates the lush world the album inhabits. A world that’s suffocated on lower quality and mono systems.

Its a bold decision to take this risk but a decision that has precedent from the more experimental electronic music. Especially that featuring Buchla systems.

Buchla synthesizers themselves were early adopters of the stereo field with modules that encouraged their performance on stereo and even quadraphonic systems. This synergy between experimental artists pushing the boundary of live performance and Buchla making systems that allowed them to do this has clearly rubbed off on Floating Points and this album.

On a good set of cans, or a nice stereo Hi-fi system, this album really comes to life. All the original shortcomings melted away and the album quickly became one of my most played this year.

“Crush” is a modern album of electronic music that’s routed in the history of the experimental side of synthesis; especially the Buchla system. It takes bold decisions and expects the listener to come to the album with a certain level of respect to reap its bountiful rewards.

It takes you on an adventure through the unknown, but, by blending the fringes and mainstream elements of synthesis and production, it never leaves you stranded. The result is one of my favorite albums of the year. I’m sure Don Buchla would be proud:

TOTW: Floating Points_ LesAlpx

On My first listen to Floating Point’s latest album “Crush” I was slightly disappointed. On a mono bluetooth speaker “Crush” seemed like a mix of tracks that were either too experimental or traditional to work together but I decided to give it another listen due to my love of his previous work Elaenia.

I’m so glad I did. All my concerns with the record disappeared once I listened to the record on headphones. The use of Stereo separation on this album is a key part of the mixing. It adds exiting flourishes to the more traditional work, and manages to ground parts of the more abstract pieces and also provide continuity for the album as a whole.

The album also flows in a bold direction with his blend of strings and buchla synths shift genre between a spectrum of club music to neo-classical compositions.

At its halfway mark Is the track LesAlphx, which is probably the most driving track on the album, with a singular evolving bass rhythm driving the track. A refined aggression is created, and slowly gets more out of control over time.

On first listen LesAlphx is probably the most stand out track on the record. Its forward, rhythm driven production makes you sit up and notice it instantly. But I wouldn’t say it represents  “Crush” as a whole. The album has a lot more subtle and melodically diverse moments that make the whole record worth your time.

Floating Points continues to mix styles in a fresh and interesting way. He blends synthesis known for use in more experimental music with classical instrumentation and whittles down some of its edges to create identifiable dance music that i highly recommend:


TOTW Playlist:

TOTW: William S Fischer_Chains

For those who haven’t heard of the “Late Night Tales” compilations, the concept is fairly simple. Artists are asked to create a late night playlist of their favorite music along with an exclusive cover of a song from the artist themselves.

This then gets released as a CD compilation album with the “Late Night Tales” moniker. It has resulted is some fantastic compilation albums, which have introduced me to many acts.

This is especially true of “This Years Floating Points” compilation, which takes you through a collection of down tempo jazz, soul and ambient electronic music. The whole album is full of gems that flow together perfectly, making it well worth a listen. I especially like the track “Chains” by “William S Ficher”.

This track blends string arrangements with jazz to create a woozy sound that is perfectly suited to a late night playlist. If you like what you hear, give the whole album a try and if you’re still interested, the other “Late Night Tales” collections are well worth a listen. A personal favourite is the Flaming Lips compilation.


TOTW Playlist:

TOTW: Floating Points_ Silhouettes (i,ii & iii)

On The album Elaenia, Floating Points mixes Jazz and elements of Electronica with great skill the highlight being the Suite of tracks entitled Silhouettes. Running in at over 10 minutes we are treated to a track that at first sounds like it is going a more traditional electronic route before the more organic flow of jazz is introduced with the drums a minute in.

As more live instrumentation is added over the sequenced Eurorack synth we move into something far more freeform. Synth, rhodes piano and an instrument that could be a sax or synthesiser go the traditional jazz route, finally a string section followed by vocalists comes into the mix and lifts the track into the sky.

It’s this fluid nature of the track that really makes it. As it morphs between styles we never notice the quite dramatic changes throughout its instrumentation until you look back on the piece. Floating Points has managed to blend the rigidity of step sequencing and electronic music with the natural instincts of jazz in such an organic way that differentiating between the two is hard. This in itself is an incredible achievement, coming from an artist with a clear and developed understanding of composition and it deserves to be heard: