We asked to different musicians, producers, bloggers, journalists, label owners to make a short list of their best albums of this year. This is the list curated by Ian Hawgood (Home Normal).
I spent much of 2017 on the road (ie. in the air) and in my new home in Warsaw. Alongside the sheer amount of sound engineering and mastering I was doing, I found these elements had a very positive impact on how I absorbed music this year. After finally trying to use streaming services (Apple Music) for the first 6 months of the year, I quickly became incredibly drained by the sheer amount of music and the sterility of it all.
My list is thus dictated to a thankfully limited selection of cassettes and records I enjoyed immensely this year. I completely stopped listening to anything whilst on the road due to ear fatigue from my work as noted above and so rather than rushing my listening experience with select purchases I made, I took time to enjoy these in the light-filled living room of my apartment which overlooks a gorgeous garden with trees which reach our windows and show the seasons in all their glory. Something about the environment and the beauty of Warsaw in low-light has brought me back to a lot of older works, most notably Folkways recordings and my morning routine of Brian Eno. There is something about the purity of these works, and the focus on a fragile, singular sound that feels so refined and real in an age where almost everything feels far too convoluted and insincere. These are works of real soul; works which take their time and have their own unique timeless identity.
Quite simply, Dino has created a masterpiece here. I love the way he directs each piece with stirring melodies through various layers of distortion, and then as a whole brings it all together so bloody brilliantly. It is the sound of your heart being ripped out, but then put back into your chest in the gentlest of ways. More than any other record this year, this is the one that has brought me to tears, and I know Dino would hate me saying that. But it has on numerous occasions and he’s just going to have to deal with that.
The ambient works of Benoît Pioulard are so wonderfully textured and fragile. I haven’t stopped playing this since I was sent the original files to master by Pieter from Dauw, and the marriage of the artist and label for such a perfect format for this as cassette is a real joy. Playing this as evening sets through the autumn trees is a magical, otherworldly experience.
Akuphone’s recent reissues from such artists as Lily Chao and Chiemi Eri have been done with so much care in packaging and mastering, and I really admire the carefully produced work they do in bringing these amazing artists to a new worldwide audience. Lily Chao’s work is so beautiful, so infinitely melodic and imaginative within a seemingly simple ‘pop’ framework. My wife and I play this when we’re hanging out in the living room or cooking, and it just fills the apartment with some old world musical charm.
An amazing example of meditative drone work. Erren Arkbro recorded a 400 year old organ, focusing on the tuning, intonation and harmonic modulation therein. The way each of the two pieces moves so fluidly and with such grace is transfixing. The vinyl package design is super cool as well.
My wife and I moved from Japan a little while ago now and miss our lives there a lot. Over the past year we’ve found ourselves playing a lot of old Japanese folk recordings, notably the Smithsonian Folkways works, and some random Enka I love. This second Akuphone inclusion on my list is so heart-warming. Basically a cross between Japanese Enka and Latin music, it is such a wonderful expression of the Japanese spirit for me and reminds me of the undiluted joy of the local festivals that take place throughout the summer.