“BROOKLYN BABYLON” DARCY JAMES ARGUE’S SECRET SOCIETY — Working with his 18-piece big band, Brooklyn-based modern composer Darcy James Argue has fashioned a brilliant musical document in the form of a series of compositions used as a mirror to and companion piece for a graphic novel by Danijel Zezelj. The result is an impressively innovative achievement that stands effortlessly on its own. Notable for both its sonic/ cinematic sweep and its amalgam of contemporary and late 20th Century sounds, “Brooklyn Babylon” is a treat for listeners to “guess” or “find” musical homages to Aaron Copland, Kurt Weill, Thelonious Monk and others. Weaving together progressive jazz, early-American popular styles, Balkan folk musics, and the sounds of Brooklyn’s diverse contemporary music scene, Argue creates a wildly evocative musical narrative that is at once timeless and unlike anything heard before. Easily the best of 2013.
“COIN COIN VOLUME 2: MISSISSIPPI MOONCHILE” MATANA ROBERTS — In 2011, Constellation Records, an indie-leaning label best known for its association with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, released the first chapter of saxophonist-composer Matana Roberts’ 12-volume avant-jazz Coin Coin project, in which her family’s story is recounted alongside an exploration of recent American history. Roberts uses the metaphor of “panoramic sound quilting” to describe the series. “Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile,” mixes experimentalism with song-form and operatic vocals, that makes for that rare balance of “accessible” and “innovative.” So it’s still easy enough, here in the early going, to get on board, and explore the music of a Jazz musician few know, but many should.
“WINTER MORNING WALKS” MARIA SCHNEIDER & DAWN UPSHAW — “Winter Morning Walks” is the first partnership between composer, pianist and orchestra leader Maria Schneider and opera diva Dawn Upshaw, uniting two of the most preeminent figures in jazz and classical music. With this release, Schneider has become one of the first artists to record major orchestras with crowd sourcing methods. The first work, ‘Winter Morning Walks,’ features the Australian Chamber Orchestra, consists of nine pieces and includes poetry by Ted Kooser, taken from his book of the same name. Three musicians long associated with Schneider’s jazz orchestra, Jay Anderson, Frank Kimbrough, and Scott Robinson, seamlessly weave improvisation throughout the pieces. The second, ‘Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories,’ features The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and consists of five songs with poetry by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, one of Brazil’s most beloved poets.
“SUNBATHER” DEAFHEAVEN — “Sunbather” is the second album from the San Francisco post-metal band who combine elements of black metal, shoegaze and post-rock. It’s an emotionally overwhelming but truly absorbing listen. But best of all, it’s cleansing. By the end, you feel drained but also at ease, a calmness bestowed upon you, no small feat for music that is absolutely massive, an all-encompassing experience, and one that’s both frighteningly intense and indescribably beautiful simultaneously.
“WED 21” JUANA MOLINA — Argentinean singer-songwriter Juana Molina has set her own course for over fifteen years, steadily reinventing herself in an almost imperceptible manner. She’s a true individual who’s never been swayed by prevailing musical trends, converting her minimal psych-folk suites into intoxicating unpredictable soundscapes. “Wed 21” marks her return after a five year absence, the longest she’s been idle after a ceaseless stream of records that explore the meeting point of acoustic and electronic instrumentation. Molina possesses a fastidious attention to detail, interpolating all her rhythmic tangles until they create some kind of abstract drawing.
“JEESUZ” KANYE WEST — “Jeesuz” is the release I’ll say the least about. With West, you either love him or hate him—no middle ground. His latest release finds a purpose in the repulsion it has widely generated. Similar to 2008’s “808s and Heartbreaks,” he trades out smooth soul and anthemic choruses for jarring electro, acid house, and industrial grind while delivering some of his most lewd and heart-crushing tales yet. It may be in some ways, his magnum opus.