By Amanda Nordqvist
Time passes much too quickly, and we here at Piano & Coffee find ourselves compelled to do a little backtracking, as there are so many amazing albums being released continually, and not enough time to keep up with them. This latest recommendations article focuses on albums from a past season – albums that caught our attention but ultimately fell between the cracks, and are now, finally, getting the retribution they deserve.
One of our all-time favourites, Bruno Sanfilippo, released his latest album Unity back in mid-February; an album that rings true to his sound – focusing on blissfully elegant and sincere neo-classical piano and strings, with just the hint of ambient electronics, Unity is yet another glorious example of Sanfilippo’s greatness. The introducing Spiral is grand in its carefully orchestrated stillness, where every minimalistic moment is equally important and calibrated just right; after the slightly ominous, outlandish beginning to the album, it takes us to a wholly different scenery, where the breathtaking strings of Lux serenade the glittering piano, familiar in its hopeful sense of renewal – an ode to spring coming back once more after this dark winter.
This theme of sudden turns is apparent throughout the album, as the tracks sway from a rather melancholic sound as in Simple and One, to the safe warm embrace of Oneness, with moaning strings like lovers in conversation, and the pure, true Cyclical leaving me speechless but utterly infatuated. Ending on its title track, Unity finds a way to connect all the things it’s explored over the previous tracks and blends them into a soft, airy piece that reminisces about things past and simultaneously soars fearlessly into tomorrow.
All the way back in October, the French composer Angéle David-Guillou released her second album through Village Green Recordings, a collection of pieces focused on movement, as implied by its name – En Mouvement. David-Guillou has an impeccable talent for playing around with unorthodox rhythm and mobility, evident throughout the album, not least in the introducing title track. Dancing around a dark room, there is something mysterious and otherworldly about it, and the track is followed by the unstoppable force that is V for Visconti, dramatically modern and full of turbulence and urgency. An intriguing use of woodwind and saxophone helps make the album stand out even more, and create a gorgeous contrast against the softness of the strings.
The album moves into brighter light with Vraisemblance, where hope tinges the strings and the whole album moves into more minimalistic terrain. The album ends on the suggestive Too Much Violence, an antidote and a warning all in one; telling of the things we’re becoming and showing how to move in a different direction. Indeed, the album has moved in all sorts of directions and still managed to stay in one piece, as one entity, never feeling pulled apart or loosely put together – En Mouvement is a clever album, showcasing an equally clever composer.
Another artist who had a release back in October was Canada-based Valiska, who released a highly personal album via label Trouble In Utopia, recounting several life-events that had taken place in the time before its release. On Pause is centered on synthesizer and tape looping, with several layers, levels of distortion and sound effects giving it an unmistakable sound. In every single track, there is intriguing movement and anti-movement, a measured disarray in the looping technique, making the tracks blend together smoothly like days turning into weeks turning into months. There’s something so raw about Valiska’s sound and I find myself getting chills, like the ones you get when someone whispers in your ear – there’s this unquestionable intimacy but it’s somehow terrifyingly exposed at the same time.
Mornings stands out with its cries of alarm in the early hours – though jumbled and distraught it’s still oddly synchronized, and the addition of spoken word adds a dystopian air to the album. Fake Strings for False Memories conveys the albums message most clearly, as the haunting melodies loop, more or less distorted each time, quite like the way our memories decay and take new forms with every recollection. Meditative and internalized, the album pulls your thoughts and feelings from your innermost parts; brings them out in the light, packs them up neatly, and sends them away.
And last, but not least, we have the wonder and mystery that is Mike Lazarev – one of 1631 Recordings carefully selected musicians who, back in November, released Dislodged, an album filled with his characteristically mournful sound and heartbreaking melodies, with titles that perfectly epitomizes what the tracks stand for and the feelings they induce. The title track with its soft, safe sorrow lulls you unfalteringly into the world Lazarev has created, guiding you on your first, curious but cautious trip towards this darkness sweeping toward you. The second part of the track is like a story you heard when you were young, suddenly sounding so very different now that you’ve grown older – the contrasts between low and high notes add to the sense of ‘now versus then’; when you were once young, innocent and carefree in your naivety, could you have ever imagined yourself like this?
The album proceeds with Distant, with an ever so soft accompaniment paired wonderfully with a melody that comes off quite intense and dramatic in comparison, without any such effort. Absent follows, where the unexpected bouts of intriguing dissonance bring yet another shade of darkness to this descent into sorrow we’re inevitably onboard, but we are hastily turned the other way as the cinematically inclined Healing provokes such blissful nostalgia I feel dizzy for a moment. Later we’re introduced to Unhinged (again), seemingly the sister to Lazarev’s breathtaking track Unhinged (off the album from 2016 with the same name) – an expansion, if you will. There’s a delicate strength to the lovely, steadfast accompaniment and a melody like rainfall, suddenly backed by gentle strings, unfolding into yet another glorious, unforgettable piece.
The album ends on two slightly lighter tracks – Serenity has such impeccable nuances and it flows with such grace, I find myself lost in its very own universe. Indeed, it appears to be the perfect example of Lazarev’s talent in creating something so unique and outstanding in such a minimalistic fashion. Then, at last, comes Sunday, the perfect embodiment of this day for mourning – the weight of the world on your shoulders for no reason at all – and it wraps up the incredible album, quite as if Lazarev spilled all that was left of his sorrow into this last track. And though we end on such a dark note, struck by what I can only hope is a person who has already worked through this unreachable sadness, it brings me joy knowing I can be reminded of this ache and not be ruled by it; I can have felt (and still feel) this pain, and not be defined by it – and that is truly one of music’s many, many wonders.