2017: Second Quarter Favorites From Laurel Halo & Ryuichi Sakamoto to Playboi Carti & Chino Amobi

If you haven’t already done so, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of you. (Image: Paolo Čerić)

For each year's first three quarters, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter features are casually compiled, with an aim to spotlight the underdogs and the lesser-heard among the more popular picks. More from this series

Ryuichi Sakamoto



When Ryuichi Sakamoto was diagnosed with throat cancer, no one knew how long he had to live. After around 40 years with Yellow Magic Orchestra — as well as many years as a solo composer — Sakamoto didn’t know if it’d be possible to ever make music again. “My faith in ‘health’ was crushed… I could have lost my voice, so I feel very lucky that I didn’t,” he shared with The New York Times. But with time, the 65-year-old composer slowly returned to the piano to give us async, 14 tracks of sobering reflection that meditate on the underlying grief at the heart of his health. Pooling influence from Andrei Tarkovsky and the piano meditations of Claude Debussy, async is about as uncomfortably intimate as instrumental music can be. Tracks like “walker” and “disintegration” feel of a certain post-Cagean tradition yet bask in a crushing fragility that borrows more from the emotive terrain of film composition than it does from art world experimentalism. “Ff,” “stakra,” and “ZURE” offer warm synths with a harrowing sparseness, while “fullmoon” includes a quote from Paul Bowles, one that’s light, yet aching in their harrowing detail. For all of its baggage in personal narrative, async continues much of what makes Sakamoto’s film work breathtaking with a handful of rich pieces at the height of the emotional spectrum.


Black Origami

[Planet Mu]

The outward expansion of footwork has yielded many meta-narratives, all inextricably bound by a sense of propulsive energy — be it a frantic release schedule, marked by a saturation of physical releases and SoundCloud drops, or the will to stretch and mutate the methodological lexicon for the circle beyond. Never created, never destroyed; Jlin taps into the latter impulse once again with Black Origami, a renegotiation of the truncated vision of footwork posited by Dark Energy. Between percussive modes via India and Africa, and the divergent compositional methods of Basinski, Herndon, and Fawkes, these dark energies are (as the title suggests) continuously folded and refolded, enveloped and developed, resulting in one of the densest and most challenging sets of footwork yet. Wordless coos (“Enigma,” “Calcination”) pierce the void; meanwhile, “1%” quite literally dials up the madness, interjecting samples amongst characteristically throttling drum hits and transmuting bass. Make no mistake, Jlin is operating way outside the club here. Questions of identity and psychogeography aside, the pull of Black Origami lies in the physicality of its Delphic complexity — a kind of corporeal braindance — so consider it a sizable gauntlet to body music hereafter. Oh, and good luck dancing to the next one.

Future City Love Stories

Future City Love Stories

[BLCR Laboratories]

The BLCR Laboratories debut of Future City Love Stories (a.k.a. Dream Catalogue CEO, a.k.a. HKE, a.k.a. [every last a.k.a. imaginable]) finds spectacular foundations for the self-titled release’s existence on the audible milieu of atmosphere. There is no “real” rhythm or reason unfolding within the chapters of Future City Love Stories, just architectural patterns. Existence as lingering footsteps in the background. Haunting echoes vibrating throughout empty alleys and alcoves. The sound of rain down the road turns out to be televisions left on static in a storefront window. Explanations withdrawn with, “Neverminds.” A voice intentionally lost in translation. Blurring lights that even up close hum a glow of aura. Dumpster fires. Pockets of wafting smells entangle the senses. Enough narrative imagination in ethereal splendor for listeners to create their very own Future City Love Stories. Come out and play forever.

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers



“What kind of music do you usually have here?” Country AND western, honky AND tonk, punk AND queer… wait, what? Sarah Shook plays smoky raw alt-country that contrasts a subtle defiance of gender stereotypes with a proud and triumphant embodiment of another trope, the country legend on a path to hell paved with bad intentions and slippery with moonshine. Country may be the music of pain, but if you need something to rile you up, the driving outlaw rhythms here’ll get the job done too. Shook’s voice is an extraordinary instrument — rough-edged and velvety by turn, with a rattling quiver and a broken lilt that’ll break your heart right along with it. Sidelong inscribes her name, alongside Lydia Loveless and Hank Williams III, in the Devil’s book.




Electronic music has an odd relationship with vocals. They’re polarized along the spectrum of directness, either fully obscured or so loaded with emotional cues as to seem heavy-handed. The notion of the electronic singer-songwriter is nearly extinct, word to James Blake. Arca found a way to bridge that gap, speaking both through his production and his own voice, and transmitting gripping affect on two levels: the pure sound of his voice, a universal language, and the massive (but nuanced) emotional conveyance of the lyrics themselves, sung in his native Spanish. Whether you speak the language or not, Arca seizes control, making himself clearer to the listener than ever before.

Lieven Martens

Gardens, Fire and Wine (A Compilation)

[Edições CN]

Quietly, he picks out postcards under a bright moon. The street murmurs, the water laps. Slowly, softly, a certain psychedelia seeps in, of the visitor, in transit, appearing, displacement. And the words come, briefly. In summary. To try to speak to transitory and totalizing experiences. Swaths of moments, and to honor them, particularly. Moods, tones, warped glimpses. A gesture. Plus all that’s ungraspable, well-traveled. I picked this one out just for you. Wish you were here. Signed Lieven Martens, who equates the seven soundscapes on Gardens, Fire and Wine (A Compilation) with a set of seven postcards. They go around the world; it’s a miracle. Delivery, like a whisper. Words laid bare for you, again, actually, as many of these tracks were previously released on 7-inches and cassettes between 2012-15. Compiled, they span from documents of live performances to naturalistic abstractions. But, again, in the wonderful words of Martens, they’re not quite that. More, “a series of images, not reissues yet self-captured.” Words touched heart. Simply. What did he write? He wrote of all sorts of good soil. Thank the glaciers, the volcanoes.

For each year's first three quarters, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter features are casually compiled, with an aim to spotlight the underdogs and the lesser-heard among the more popular picks. More from this series

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