Jóhann Jóhannsson “The Miners' Hymns"
The Icelandic composer's first album for the British label FatCat, The Miners' Hymns is a soundtrack to Bill Morrison's film of the same name. Appropriately for a soundtrack to a film about Northumberland coalminers, there is heavy reliance on brass. Minimal, haunting and emotive, this is one of Jóhannsson's best.
The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble “Mr. Machine"
Much like label-mate Herbert, Mr. Machine is a work of jazzy, piano-led, left-field (albeit analogue) 'house' that stays clear of lounge. Built around the trio of Brandt Brauer Frick, here the Ensemble swell to a ten-piece. Organic, angular yet never jagged, the catchy piano riffs contrast with lushly layered percussion.
Sandro Perri “Impossible Spaces”
The most immediately striking aspect of Impossible Spaces is the warmth of the recording. Perri's vocals bring to mind Andrew Bird or Broken Social Scene but the playing is way more freeform and intuitively led. Jazzy percussion, flutes and synths recalling more psychedelic references. A slow, gorgeous and soothing work.
No Gold “No Gold"
In 2010, it seemed like every indie band in North America was looking towards African music as a source of inspiration, led by Vampire Weekend and Animal Collective. This debut from Vancouver's No Gold proves there's still room for African-infused indie, especially blended with great pop hooks and Krautrock grooves.
Widowspeak is the eponymous debut album from the NYC-based trio on Brooklyn's Captured Tracks. The exquisitely sensual, breathy vocals are counterpointed beautifully with jangly slide guitar. A gorgeously slow-paced, Americana-laced album evokes Elysian Fields, blues-based femme fatales such as Mazzy Star and Cat Power and a hint of PJ Harvey.
Spank Rock “Everything Is Boring & Everyone's A Fucking Liar"
Another act that had little chance of living up to expectations was Baltimore's Spank Rock. After the departure of two members and years of legal wrangling, MC Spank Rock (aka Naeem Juwan) and XXXChange (aka Alex Epton) finally followed up the superb YoYoYoYoYo, helped along by German producer Boys Noize.
Panda Bear “Tomboy"
It was unlikely that Noah Lennox would be able to repeat the success of Person Pitch. Not wishing to damn with faint praise, Tomboy is an enjoyable album even if it doesn't live up to the expectations set by its predecessor and the suspense created by its infuriatingly slow release.
Roots Manuva “4everevolution”
Roots Manuva (aka Rodney Smith) has been off his game for a few years now but the unfortunately named 4everevolution is his best album proper in at least half a decade. Apparently mostly songs planned for other artists, it's understandably diverse yet retains the unique sound the British rapper pioneered.
Cliff Martinez & Various Artists “Drive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)"
The first twenty minutes of Drive was one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema I'd seen of late. Shame then that the flow and aesthetics were marred by a tedious plot involving a goofy mafia duo. The speechless scenes of Gosling driving around to Cliff Martinez's score were stunning.
Dustin O'Halloran “Vorleben”
Vorleben is a live performance of some of O'Halloran's best works, recorded in Berlin in the summer of 2009. Mostly pieces from his acclaimed albums Piano Solos and Piano Solos Vol. 2. What at first appears as unassumingly delicate eventually reveals itself to be an arresting and heavily melancholic work.