BEST NEW ALBUMS OF 2016-PART 6.

BEST NEW ALBUMS OF 2016-PART 6.

Qluster-Echtzei.

Forty-seven years after he first co-founded Kluster, Hans-Joachim Roedelius keeps the memory of Kluster and Cluster alive with Qluster.  They released their sixth album Echtzeit on  Bureau B during 2016.   

Echtzeit marks a stylistic departure from Qluster. It’s much more ambient sounding album.  Qluster combine elements of ambient, avant-garde and Berlin School with electronica and experimental music. The result is music that’s mostly understated, subtle and minimalist. It’s case of less is more. Occasionally, the music becomes dark, dramatic and briefly, menacing. This adds to the cinematic sound of Echtzeit. Mostly, the music on Echtzeit veers between beautiful, dreamy, ethereal and lysergic; to hypnotic and mesmeric and sometimes, melancholy, reflective, ruminative, thoughtful and wistful. Always though, Echtzeit is compelling, captivating and cinematic. Echtzeit is also melodic and harmonious, and is a fitting addition to the Kluster, Cluster and Qluster illustrious discography.  

Echtzeit is also the most accessible album of Qluster’s career. It’s the perfect introduction to Qluster, and an album that should introduce Qluster to a new and much wider audience. Veterans of Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia will enjoy and embrace Qluster’s new album Echtzeit. It finds the grand old man of German music, Hans-Joachim Roedelius continuing the legacy of Kluster and Cluster with Qluster on Echtzeit.

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RM Hubbert-Telling The Trees.

For Telling The Trees, RM Hubbert joined by a stellar cast of guest artists. This includes Karine Palwart, Kathryn Williams, Martha Ffion and Anneliese Mackintosh. These multitalented songwriters, musicians and vocalists join RM Hubbert in creating another album of collaborations. Hubby’s first album of collaborations, Thirteen Lost and Found, won Hubby the Scottish Album Of The Year Award. Telling The Trees had a lot to live up to.   

It’s a captivating album of genre-melting music. Telling The Trees. features everything from folk, country, flamenco, indie pop and America. It features music that’s atmospheric, beautiful, cinematic,  ethereal, hook-laden, melancholy, pensive, poignant and ruminative. The result is an enthralling album that hopefully, marks the start in a new chapter in RM Hubbert’s career.

Telling The Trees is the first album of the post-Ampersand years. The threads that ran through the Ampersand quartet were Hubby contending with the loss of both his parents and a five year battle with depression. Hopefully, Hubby is coming to terms with the loss of his parents, and has won his brave battle with depression. If he has, then Telling The Trees will be the start of a new chapter in his career. That would be fitting. Twenty-five years ago, in 1991, RM Hubbert took his first tentative steps into Glasgow’s vibrant musical scene. Nowadays, RM Hubbert is regarded as a veteran of the Scottish music scene, whose fifth album Telling The Trees was released  to critically acclaim.

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Rick Redbeard-Awake Unto. 

Three years after the release of No Selfish Heart, Rick Redbeard released his sophomore album Awake Unto on Chemikal Underground Records. It’s  an album where Rick Redbeard has come of age musically as a solo artist.

No wonder. Rick Redbeard spent three years carefully crafting the ten songs on Awake Unto. It was recorded  with help of a few musical friends. The result was Awake Unto, which is  a much stronger and more cohesive album than No Selfish Heart. Awake Unto also an album that oozes quality. 

Many of the songs on Awake Unto have much in common. Not only are they beautiful, but they’ve a cinematic quality. Rick Redbeard paints pictures with his lyrics, and with his unique and unmistakable vocal, takes the listener on a musical adventure. They discover songs that are beautiful and cinematic. Others are poignant, atmospheric, and tinged with drama, melancholy, mystery and mysticism. Some are  melodic and memorable, while The Golden Age is an anthem-in-waiting. Wild Young Country and Field Years are both heartfelt paeans from the pen of Rick Redbeard. He’s a talented songwriter, who has the ability to breath life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. Proof of this is Awake Unto, where Rick Redbeard comes of age musically.

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Skadedyr-Culturen.

Supergroup. That describes Skadedyr. Their lineup features twelve of the most inventive, innovative and influential musicians in Norway. Skadedyr are no ordinary supergroup. Instead, they describe themselves as an anarchist-democratic band. This makes Skadedyr standout from the crowd. So does the unique and eclectic selection of instruments that Skadedyr play. They put them to good use on  Culturen which was released by Hubro Music. It marks the return of one of the most exciting bands in the Norwegian music scene, Skadedyr.

They don’t disappoint on Culturen. It’s captivating album where Skadedyr create a dazzling musical tapestry. They fuse a disparate selection of musical influences. Everything from avant-garde, electronica, experimental, folk, free jazz and post rock shine through. So does brass band, industrial, jazz, and musique concrète. These musical genres become Skadedyr’s musical palette, and are applied upon on Culturen’s six canvases.

These canvases veer between atmospheric, dark, dramatic and eerie, to ethereal, joyous and melodic. Other times, they’re minimalist and understated, but can quickly, become urgent, futuristic and otherworldly. Sometimes, the music becomes melancholy and wistful,  but has an inherent beauty. Always, though, Skadedyr captivate with their unique brand of genre-melting music. It’s often cinematic, and allows the listener to paint pictures as they immerse themselves in the music on Culturen. It’s a career-defining album and tantalising introducing to one of most exciting and dynamic bands in Norwegian music, Skadedyr whose sophomore album Culture is their most accessible.

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Sølyst-The Steam Age. 

Five years after releasing their eponymous debut album, Sølyst released their third album  The Steam Age on Bureau B.  It’s an ambitious album where Sølyst turns his attention to the Industrial Revolution.

The Steam Age sounds like the soundtrack. Sølyst even manages to replicate the sound of a factory at work. It veers between dramatic, alluring and melodic, to mesmeric, reassuringly rhythmic and hypnotic.  Sølyst’s factory at work provides a captivating soundtrack. Especially when the machines seem to dance with delight. Sølyst it seems , is providing the soundtrack of a factory at play. This conjures up visions of machines coming to life, like an industrial version of Toy Story. 

Maybe, Sølyst has inadvertently provided the soundtrack to Disney Pixar’s next blockbuster? He certainly has created a cinematic epic. When listening to The Steam Age, it’s best to let your imagination run riot. As you listen to the music, scenarios will unfold before your eyes. Suddenly, the dark satanic mills seem very real. Especially their sounds and dangers, as sounds assail one’s senses. For forty-nine minutes, The Steam Age proves an enthralling and captivating listen. It’s the closest thing to time travel you’ll experience with without Doctor Who’s Tardis.

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Splashgirl-Hibernation.

When doom jazz pioneers Splashgirl were formed, they decided to combine traditional instruments and technology. This was new, exciting and innovative. The members of Splashgirl were one part musician, to one part musical alchemist as they experimented with their arsenal of musical instruments and technology. They put that to good use over the years, including on their fifth album Hibernation which was released by Hubro Music. It found Splashgirl changing direction.   

This was a huge risk. Splashgirl had found and honed their sound over four critically acclaimed albums. However, Splashgirl aren’t the type of group who could or would rerecord the same album. That’s for lesser bands, not musical mavericks and pioneers like Splashgirl. So when they made their way to Hljodriti Studio in Hafnarfjördur in September 2015, the decision was made. Splashgirl would make more use of synths, electronics and processing. They play a more important part in Hibernation, which features Splashgirl at their most inventive and innovative.

As Splashgirl innovate, the combine disparate musical genres. Elements of avant-garde, classical, drone, free jazz, post rock jazz and rock. All these genres play their part in Hibernation. It veers between cinematic, dramatic, melancholy and wistful, and sometimes, beautiful, elegiac and ethereal. Hibernation is an album to embrace and cherish, where musical alchemists Splashgirl create a cinematic Magnus Opus.

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Starless-Starless.

One of the most anticipated Scottish albums of 2016 was Starless, a project that Paul McGeechan conceived over seven years ago. It was an ambitious project, and one that would take time, patience and persistence to realise. However, this he realised, was the time to make the Starless project reality. So having compassed music of the music on Starless, Paul enlisted a few friends. 

Soon, Paul had a cast of some of the most talented singers in Scotland. This included The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson, Marie Clare Lee, Julie Fowlis and Andrew White. Pop and rock vocalists joined traditional singers in Starless. Joining them, were the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. They provided an emotive backdrop throughout Starless. Not only did they sweep the arrangements along, but framed the vocals. What was unusual was that the strings dominated the arrangements on Starless. However, Starless was no ordinary album, and Starless were ordinary group. 

Instead, Starless is more like a musical collective, where there is room for the lineup to evolve. However, on Starless ethereal beauty and troubled troubadours with worldweary vocals join lush strings in producing an almost flawless album. That album is Starless, which features stars aplenty.They shine bright and made Paul McGeechan’s Starless project a reality, and a resounding success.

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Stein Urheim-Strandebarm.

After a two year absence, Bergen based, multi-instrumentalist Stein Urheim, returned with another album of ambitious and innovative music, Strandebarm. It was released on Hubro Music. Inspiration for Strandebarm, was French music of the early 1900s; American ragtime and standards of the twenties and thirties. They were a tonal departure point for Stein Urheim on Strandebarm. These he combines with both acoustic instruments and electronic elements. They’re both part of Stein Urheim’s musical arsendal, which he deploys to good effect as he recorded Strandebarm.

Stein Urheim put his musical arsenal to good use.  Strandebarm is aheady brew. It’s best described as atmospheric, beautiful, ethereal, haunting, melancholy, mesmeric and wistful. Other times, the music is cinematic and dramatic. However, for much of Strandebarm, the music is ruminative and thoughtful. It allows time to reflect and consider, without being subdued or sombre. Far from it.

Instead, Strandebarm is another captivating album from one of the leading lights of Norway’s vibrant music scene, Stein Urheim. The Bergen based musical pioneer continues to innovate and take his music in new and unheralded directions. Other times, Stein Urheim springs a surprise, as he takes the listener on a musical adventure. By then, Stein Urheim is playing the role of a swashbuckling musical pioneer. Helped along by his collection of eclectic and exotic stringed instruments from the four corners of the world, Stein Urheim has created some of the most ambitious, exciting and innovative music of his career on Strandebarm.

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Stian Westerhus-Amputation.

Nowadays, Stian Westerhus is one of the most accomplished and innovative abstract guitar players. Constantly, he’s busy working as a session player and collaborating with the great and good of Norwegian music. When he has time, he works on his solo albums. 2016 saw  Stian Westerhus release his fourth solo alnbum,  Amputation on the House Of Mythology label. It’s the most ambitious album of his career.

Amputation features music that’s cerebral, challenging and thought-provoking. Stian wants the listener to think; sometimes about subjects that will make will them uncomfortable. That’s the case on Amputation and Amputation Part II. Stian replicates the sounds heard in an operating theatre when an amputation is taking place. It’s a traumatic and life-changing event. Most musicians would shy away from even broaching such a controversial subject. Not Stian Westerhus. He brings the subject into the open, and faces the reality head on. For that he should be congratulated. However, the Amputation suite is just part of Amputation.

The music on Amputation is also beautiful, cinematic, ethereal and melodic. Other times, it’s dark, haunting and mournful. Sometimes, Stian lays bare his soul, delivering vocals that are akin to an outpouring of emotion. When this happens, there’s a cathartic quality to the vocals, as if Stian is cleansing his soul. He breathes life and meaning into the lyrics on Sinking Ships, How Long and Infectious Decay. Always, the music on Amputation is compelling and innovative on what’s Stian Westerhus’ finest hour.

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Sula Bassana-Shipwrecked.

When Sula Bassana released Shipwrecked on Sulatron-Records, it was the twentieth album they had released since 2002. Shipwrecked is best described as an album of electronic Krautrock, albeit with a few detours. 

On Shipwrecked, Dave Schmidt combines elements of avant-garde, Berlin School, experimental and psychedelia with electronic Krautrock. In doing so, Sula Bassana draws inspiration from, and pay homage to Can, Cluster, Kraftwerk, Michael Hoenig, Neu! and Rodion G.A. When this heady brew of musical genres and influences is combined, the result is Sula Bassana’s twentieth album, Shipwrecked.

It features music that veers between dramatic to broody and moody, to hypnotic and mesmeric right through to melancholy and wistful. Other times, the music on Shipwrecked ranges from lysergic to futuristic and even beautiful. Always though, Sula Bassana’s music on Shipwrecked is innovative, captivating and cinematic. Shipwrecked sounds like the soundtrack to a film that’s yet to made, but if it ever is, is sure to be a blockbuster. 

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