Tag Archives: Elkhorn

2019 in Review: Instrumental

Let’s get this retrospective party started, y’all. Once again, I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew and am attempting to blurb more albums than is remotely reasonable, but I thought I’d get rolling with a list of nine favorite non-jazz, non-RVA instrumental albums. Four posts will follow this one — Jazz, Audiovisual (new category this year, though I guess “Instrumental” is new too), RVA, and 25 Favorites. As has been the case the last few years, these are presented in alphabetical order. No ranking. Just sending love letters out to the albums that meant a great deal to me in 2019.

Phil Cook — As Far As I Can See

I wrote in the last Off Your Radar issue of the year about my connection to Phil Cook’s music, and how it distills the joy I have for the creative community that links Richmond, Durham, and Eau Claire. As Far As I Can See provides a zoomed-in view of Cook’s genius, narrowing the focus so we can see how he builds songs and melodies when words aren’t on the table. I’ve played this a zillion times since it came in the mail, often first thing in the morning on weekends or when I’m working from home. Pair with hot coffee and feeling hopeful about what the day will bring.

Ebony Steel Band — Pan Machine

I’ve been listening to Kraftwerk all wrong this whole time. In truth I haven’t spent a ton of time with the German band’s albums — just exploratory listens here and there. But I’ve always focused on the mechanical stuff. The beat. The synth sounds. The blunt vocals. This wonderful album of steel drum covers pushes melody to the foreground. Mind blown. I had no idea how gracefully these songs move. I can’t wait to get to know the original versions even better — now with a better listening toolkit.

Elkhorn — Sun Cycle/Elk Jam

Two fearless, searching albums, with approximately two million avenues for your mind to travel down while listening. Sun Cycle and Elk Jam remind me of the note Zooey Deschanel leaves Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous about spinning Tommy and seeing your future unfold — press play on either of these, close your eyes, and let your imagination run wild. You may end up in a forest. You may communicate with dead relatives. Elkhorn’s music is as infinite as your capacity for wonder.

Mary Lattimore & Mac McCaughan — New Rain Duets

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when I walked into Richmond Music Hall in May to see Steve Gunn, I had no idea that the “Mary & Mac” who would be opening were Mary Lattimore and Mac McCaughan, who released this gorgeous ambient album just a couple of months earlier. As far as supporting act surprises go, it doesn’t get much better than that. Mrs. YHT and I sat and ate dinner in the back of the hall while Mary & Mac painted some seriously dreamy soundscapes, complete with nature imagery projected onto the back of the stage. What a gift that was.

Ryan Lott — Pentaptych

I learned fairly early on in my Son Lux fandom that frontman Ryan Lott was also a composer, and Pentaptych has been an excellent introduction to that side of his musical brain. Quick story: I grew to love the way the piece — originally composed as ballet accompaniment — carved out musical space. The low end and high end are noticeably distant from one another, leaving this vast, vacant middle area. Turns out (and I can’t seem to find where he said this), Lott was intentionally setting the stage for the dancers, creating an openness where visual aspects of the performance could be foregrounded. I’m amazed at how clearly he was able to articulate that vision.

Bill Orcutt — Odds Against Tomorrow

Gave this a listen after Mark Richardson wrote about it for Bandcamp Daily. My first rodeo with Bill Orcutt’s music. I’ve found Odds Against Tomorrow to be richly rewarding for both the head and the heart; it forces you to flex preconceptions relating to time and dynamics, and it contains a delicately rendered version of “Moon River,” the song I often sing my kids at bed/naptime.

Rosenau & Sanborn — Bluebird

I put in my pre-order for this while on vacation in the Outer Banks. I can remember stealing a few minutes to myself and using them to listen to “Saturday,” only it was too long to get through, so I listened to it in pieces the first few times I heard it. My copy came in the mail a few months later, on a day when I really needed something wordless and nurturing and engaging. Bluebird was both figuratively and literally there for me.

Various — Industry/Water

One of 2019’s most welcome developments was Jonny Greenwood starting his own label, Octatonic Records. I’m a big fan of the Radiohead guitarist’s soundtrack work, and it’s great to know he’s planting deep roots in the realm of modern classical. The announcement of the label’s founding was accompanied by two initial releases, and I snagged the second — an LP that pairs one of Greenwood’s own compositions, “Water,” with a delightfully dissonant piece by Michael Gordon called “Industry.” Both are beautiful and challenging, and I can’t wait to see where Octatonic goes next.

William Tyler — Goes West

I get a sense of warmth from this record that goes beyond notes, chords, and instruments. It’s an atmosphere. It’s a statement of belief, rooted in a genuine appreciation for his Cosmic Americana forbears — including a Windham Hill universe that he’s helped me connect with over the past couple of years. While Goes West is certainly a fun listen, it feels as deep as anything William Tyler has made to this point.

More 2019 in Review:

2019 in Review: Jazz
2019 in Review: Audiovisual
2019 in Review: RVA
2019 in Review: 25 Favorites

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2017 in Review: Americana

My first time splitting Americana out into its own category. It’s an admittedly nebulous distinction that’s useful in this case because it means I can list a bunch more albums that meant something to me this year. Here they are:

Bright Eyes — Salutations

Combine a wildly positive Friday Cheers experience this summer with the fact that the Felice Brothers provide a different backdrop than I’m used to hearing in Bright Eyes tunes, and you have an album that feels distinctly 2017 to me. The Felice Brothers even served as his backing band at that Cheers show. Just excellent. And yes, I did grab an official Conor Oberst harmonica at the merch table. The inscription: “Sorry for everything.”

Bright Eyes — “A Little Uncanny” [Spotify/iTunes]

Elkhorn — The Black River

A late-breaking addition. Grabbed this at Steady Sounds with Christmas money. Didn’t know it included a Coltrane number until I had a copy in my hands and could peep the back cover.

Elkhorn — “Spiritual” (John Coltrane cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

Dori Freeman — Letters Never Read

Wrote about this album on Thanksgiving. It was the kind of peaceful moment you wish for and rarely experience:

Was just in a crowded kitchen, mashing potatoes, listening to Dori Freeman’s new album, and thinking about how great a Thanksgiving soundtrack it makes… Her arrangement of “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” is as simple as it gets — just her voice — like an old recipe rendered with care. It made for a moment of calm contentment amid a chaos for which I’m very fortunate.

Dori Freeman — “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” [Spotify/iTunes]

Jake Xerxes Fussell — What in the Natural World

Year-end list are silly, but they can produce meaningful moments of agreement. Seeing this on Amanda Petrusich’s top-10 made me jump up and down on the inside. And if I’d gotten my shit together in time to do a top songs post, I would have put “Furniture Man” in it.

Jake Xerxes Fussell — “Furniture Man” [Spotify/iTunes]

Hiss Golden Messenger — Hallelujah Anyhow

If you’ve been to a Hiss show, you know leave about 157% more hopeful than when you walked into the venue. This album comes as close to instilling that feeling from afar as anything he’s recorded.

Hiss Golden Messenger — “When The Wall Comes Down” [Spotify/iTunes]

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — The Nashville Sound

“If We Were Vampires,” y’all. Kinda feels like that’s all you need to say, right?

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — “If We Were Vampires” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Kernal — LIGHT COUNTRY

From the cover art to the name “Kernal” to the fact that Taco Bell figures so prominently in the lyrics to my favorite song on the album… I have no idea what’s going on here. And I don’t want to know. I just want to spin this album and be happy. Light Country is about as quick a route from wherever I am to my musically induced happy place as I’ve found.

The Kernal — “At The Old Taco Bell” [Spotify/iTunes]

John Moreland — Big Bad Luv

Deep emotional intelligence. Earnest introspection. A testament to how profoundly sad music, when made honestly, can be a force for healing. Looking forward to his show at The Camel on January 14. Saw Black opening. Should be outstanding.

John Moreland — “Sallisaw Blue” [Spotify/iTunes]

David Rawlings — Poor David’s Almanack

I’m posting “Money Is The Meat In The Coconut” below because my daughter and I sang it together a few times and thinking about that makes me smile, but listen to the lyrics to “Yup.” Knocked me back when I saw it live at the National earlier in December.

David Rawlings — “Money Is The Meat In The Coconut” [Spotify/iTunes]

Willie Watson — Folksinger, Vol. 2

Got way into this after seeing Watson sing “Samson And Delilah” at that David Rawlings show in November. He also sang “Keep It Clean,” which is the last track on Vol. 1. I love that Rawlings passes the mic around like that.

Willie Watson — “Samson And Delilah” [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review:

2017 in Review: Live Albums
2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: RVA
2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

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