John Dark, December 2022
The real reason we’re obsessed with audio is to get closer to the music. Yes, that means the classics that we know by heart (and still find new nuances in with the right gear). But it also means new music, and there’s more new music than ever, for better and worse. It’s harder to find what you like when there’s more of everything and the algorithm feeds you only more of the same. Listening to new music can introduce you to new and exciting artists and genres that you may not have discovered otherwise.
Here are a dozen recent albums worth a listen. Can’t say we didn’t give you anything.
A quick search for “Best of” lists tells me that there’s more I haven’t heard than I have, especially in jazz. That genre has been expanding and brimming with new energy for the last 10 years. So consider this a personal list. Here’s a roundup of personal favorites both popular and obscure that were released from late ’21 to late ’22.
I’ve been on a retro-soul kick this year. It started with Leon Bridges and led to Durand Jones and a whole lot more. Colemine Records alone can keep a boy busy. Durand Jones’ latest album is gorgeous from the opening “Love Will Work It Out” (which could have been 1977’s biggest ballad) through crooners and mid-tempo burners that honor soul’s originators while adding a fresh take.
The follow up to the astonishing Texas Sun, Texas Moon continues to give us a gauzy, almost psychedelic take on soul that treads its own ground.
After foolishly dismissing her debut when it first came out, I’ve become ever fonder of Gardot’s torchy take on jazz that’s at once traditional and modernly subversive. After 2020’s crepescular “Sunset in the Blue” Gardot and pianist Philippe Powell bring us an album that, Jeff Wilson states in The Absolute Sound, “will appeal to anyone who has a soft spot for dreamy, love-soaked ballads and duets that stand out for their intimacy. Gardot wrote or co-wrote eight of the compositions here, and some have the aura of future standards. Keeping it slow and quiet, Gardot and Powell make excellent use of space and employ the lightest brushstrokes in order to weave their spell.”
The always tasteful Austrian duo Richard Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber provide a heaping helping of their deep groove downtempo electronica on their new album, Osam. Their music blends elements of trip hop, jazz, and downtempo, resulting in a sound that is both relaxed and invigorating. Their songs are filled with feelings of longing, nostalgia, and joy, and they have the ability to transport listeners to another time and place. Osam is no different, though perhaps treading to darker places than prior releases.
They’ve done the virtually impossible and created an album that honors the classic ‘80s A Secret Wish album and yet sounds completely new. Stephen Lipson delivers an astounding sounding album, as fans of his prior work with Frankie Goes To Hollywood or Annie Lennox should expect. There’s an element of drama missing compared to the original album but not a note out of place. A very welcome addition to any lover of dramatic synthpop.
The left-field pop/R&B princess gives us a sexy slab of bedroom soul. I guess it’s weird to say left-field because what she’s doing is stone-cold classic R&B/dance. It’s just that few are doing that these days, and even fewer with the talent and technique that Princess Freesia brings. She’s been gifting us with smooth grooves for the last 10 years both solo and with her collaborator Soulpersona. Return to Pleasure is all her – every note apparently crafted in her Brighton bedroom. Don’t expect audiophile sound quality, but do expect a highly skilled singer delivering passionate songs about sex and relationships.
Another gorgeous album from Barbara Higbie, who has been on a roll for *checks watch* 40 years. Barbara signed on to Windham Hill records in the early ’80s and promptly delivered the classic “Tideline” with Darol Anger. She’s made a career delivering music that touches on folk and modern chamber music that’s both personal and timeless. Presence builds on her recent work, adding a little more space to her compositions compared to the equally gorgeous Murmuration.
The first album in many years from Will Ackerman – founder of Windham Hill Records, helped define a genre and influenced a generation of artists. Yes, he still produces and records (Check out The Gathering CDs, FLOW, and Brothers with Tom Eaton and Jeff Oster). Positano Songs is in every way worth of Will’s discography, bringing an updated take on his gorgeous and meditative guitar compositions, alternate tunings, and sensitive collaborations.
The multi-instrumentalist brings us a full album of treated guitar building worlds of sound in his living room. Fans of Harold Budd must listen.This recording marks the end of a nearly two-year long series of seasonal themed release. However, unlike the previous digital releases, In Late Summer” is not an EP, but a full album’s worth of material. It’s all electric guitar, but treated and layered to create an autumnal soundscape that celebrates the beauty of the darker days.
Blue Mood, Breakout & Beyond features the group’s first three studio albums, It’s Better To Travel (1987), Kaleidoscope World (1989) and Get In Touch With Yourself (1992) and the Japan-only live album Live at the Jazz Café (1993). Additionally, there are four discs of bonus content: three CDs of remixes and a final disc collecting B-sides.
Swing Out Sister may not be a household name, but for fans of sophisticated pop music, the British duo is the best band in the world. Comprised of vocalist Corinne Drewery and keyboardist Andy Connell, Swing Out Sister has been creating mesmerizing and infectious tunes for over three decades, earning a devoted following and critical acclaim along the way. Drawing on influences from jazz, soul, and pop, Swing Out Sister creates music that is both elegant and upbeat, with Drewery’s sultry vocals and Connell’s lush keyboard melodies creating a sound that is both timeless and modern. Their lyrics are clever and thought-provoking, tackling themes of love, loss, and the human condition with wit and wisdom. And despite the depth of their lyrics, their songs are also incredibly catchy, with hooks that will stick in your head for days. This collection captures them from the first notes well into their development as the world’s premier sophistipop artists.
There are incredible elements to this concept album, and some really good moments, but none of them live up to the promise of the Blinding Lights single. Indeed, the structure feels very much like a ripoff of Ghost Funk Orchestra’s brilliant album An Ode to Escapism. Maybe I’ll reevaluate this in a few years. Maybe not.
It’s just… depressing? It’s good art. While I love this band, but have not found a way into enjoying the album.
That’s it. What was new to you? What did I miss? Let me know.