Kick off 2024 with the annual New Year’s Concert by Christian Thielemann & Wiener Philharmoniker, featuring lively polkas, waltzes, and marches. On the piano side of releases, Elisabeth Leonskaja returns to her historic label Warner Classics for a selection of concertos by Schumann and Grieg—a crossover program around Romanticism and post-Romanticism served by the “old-fashioned” playing of this immense pianist. Philip Glass revisits his masterpieces from his home studio and personal piano on the intimate Philip Glass Solo. Violinist Gidon Kremer’s collaboration with chamber orchestra Kremerata Baltica, and soprano Vida Miknevičiūtė's featuring works by the younger generation of composers, alongside Lalo’s symphony and orchestral works by Neeme Järvi and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra are also not to be missed this month. Last but not least, JB Dunckel of Air’s classical piano unwinds with Paranormal Musicality.
Continuing We Jazz’s excellent run of new and atmospheric bebop jazz, Anni Kiviniemi Trio’s Eir borders on bombast without letting go of the peaceful and playful context they strive to maintain. Three kings of peace jazz, Surya Botofasina, Nate Mercereau, Carlos Niño, unite at the right time–the form is on the rise both in the jazz community and the overall music community following Andre 3000′s album with Niňo. Each of the players brings a different improvisational flair, but none overshadows the commitment to relaxation and beauty. The enchanting South Korean singer Youn Sun Nah interprets her favorite female artists, accompanied by Jon Cowherd on piano. Björk, Edith Piaf and Roberta Flack are among the diverse voices she honors. Mary Halvosron enlists a who’s who of improvisational players on Cloudward. The record swells with purpose and noise when needed while providing perfect space for the players to stretch their legs in the pocket. Abdullah Ibrahim’s playing finally got some of the attention it deserved on his recent foray into solo piano records. On this, a record of mostly live trio performances, his work with others is highlighted perfectly. In any surrounding, Ibrahim is one of the best artists we have, so treasuring these records is an absolute must.
Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood and Tom Skinner return with The Smile’s second album, Wall of Eyes. The record is a slower burn than their first but the trio smolder long enough to build something important and altogether different from their past projects. 2024′s first Qobuzissime winners, Sprints, combine a powerful live show with an incredibly therapeutic look at personal issues. It’s nearly impossible not to sing along, even as you realize how deep and troubled the lyrics are. Office Dog are all over the rock and indie spectrum on their newest offering. Elements of anything from pop-rock to shoegaze pop up but the record never feels weighed down or heavy; instead, the NZ trio offers a bridge to these sounds—one easily walkable from wherever they land next. Plantoid’s Terrapath is a mish-mash of soulful noises. This joyous and psychedelic record might slip past you if you aren’t fully ensconced. At times funky and simple, most of the material builds and drops into genres you don’t expect before pulling the string back to simple melodies and gorgeous, floating instrumental work. Fun is all the rage with Chemtrails, a solid mix of ‘80s Waitresses-style storytelling and off-kilter doo-wop beats. It’s easy to realize these stories and songs resonate past the surface-level, often telling it how it is to those who need to hear it most. Exuberance also abounds on Fairweather Friend, the latest from Bay Area quartet The Umbrellas. Jangly guitars and buoyant, traded-off boy/girl vocals recall some of indiepop’s best.
Marika Hackman emerges from a creative dry spell to go wider and deeper on her fifth album Big Sigh. The UK singer/songwriter co-produced the ten tracks and performed nearly every note, making it even more personal. Folk DNA runs through Lizzie No’s Halfsies but don’t just call it a folk record. “Lagunita” features a big chorus and even bigger crashing guitars that will sweep you up and away; “Getaway Car” begins in haze of pedal steel before the volume and intensity pick up and the sing-along vocals punch in. You’ve previously heard Brittney Spencer with the Highwomen, Jason Isbell and others, but she confidently takes center stage on her debut LP My Stupid Life, where her powerful voice deftly maneuvers through pop, country and R&B. Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s twenty-three-year-old “Murder on the Dancefloor” gets a rebirth thanks to a well-placed sync in the black comedy Saltburn. The song is indeed a banger, and this EP gives you the B-side and every remix imaginable.
Footwork as a rule is experimental and, at times, too “far out” to reside next to the dance-pop hoi polloi. For DJ Lucky and Teklife’s Triple 7, the wild side of footwork is subdued to create a dancefloor more inviting while still not completely accessible. The samples here invoke house and breakbeat but the music itself transcends to an invitation to lose oneself in the genre. Pinning down a 潘PAN record is impossible. At times, ambient dance floor poetry overshadows the R&B feel to the music pulsating in the background, but the mix of languages and deliveries is too intoxicating to ignore. Barrier-breaking is a commality in underground dance, but it’s no less impressive when an artist like Jdotbalance shifts and redefines a combination of genres. On Verdant, the breaks and samples flow seamlessly as if to lead the listener and the artist to solve the mystery of newness together. Kinoteki created an irresistible record packed with dub-laden footwork. It is just as easy to relax and take in Faith and the Vessel as it is to sweat to it; an incredible feat.
The Dutch quartet YĪN YĪN is back with their third psych-rock album, Mount Matsu, featuring various influences from Southeast Asia, Japan, and beyond. If the review could just be THESE RIFFS ARE SICK, that might be better than expounding on what makes As Spoken by Knöll so incredible. Getting lost in the riffs is definitely the best part, but there’s a disgust in the vocals and rhythm that is undeniable. Knöll destroy you with a charisma often left to chance by most polished metal bands. Kawanashi breaks open the brains of lo-fi beatmaking and feasts on the goo inside. Pitched up samples, rock guitar, gentle melodies and synth work abound on a wonderful example of beat tape experimentalism. Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh brings his scoring talents to the world of ... bugs. The tense moments of praying mantis attacks, army ant swarms and a jumping spider’s urban adventures get a musical backdrop to match the drama. Emcees extraordinaire G’s Us, comprised of AJ Suede and R.A.P. Ferreira, dropped a short but powerful record that bests their already incredible 2023 outputs. That’s saying a lot as both are prolific. Here they celebrate their prowess while having what sounds like a ton of fun together.
Compiled by Sujan Hong, Jeff Laughlin, Nitha Viraporn/Qobuz USA